Heather Burkin: Regulating Uterine Contraction and Preventing Labor | Bachelor Research


Regulation of uterine contraction and prevention of premature birth



bio sketch

Research in my laboratory focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that promote uterine contraction and the onset of labour. Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality in developed countries, and the long-term goal is to develop new therapies to promote uterine rest and allow a greater proportion of infants to go to term. The identification of new pharmacological agents to reduce uterine contraction would reduce preterm birth rates, reduce perinatal health disparities, and improve pregnancy outcomes, all of which have been identified as high priority research issues by the National Institutes of Health. My research mainly focused on three related projects

Project overview

The long-term goal of our research is to understand the regulation of uterine contraction and labor and to develop new therapies to prevent infants from being born prematurely. Our laboratory was the first to show that metallopeptidase enzymes (MMP2 and MMP9) are elevated in the preterm uterus and that inhibition of these enzymes reduces contraction in human uterine tissue and delays parturition in mice. We are currently working to determine whether MMP inhibition prevents preterm birth in mouse models. Other projects in the lab include studying the effects of mechanical stretching, infection and cannabinoids on uterine function. Finally, we have developed a 3D human uterine smooth muscle bioprint model that we are working to characterize and improve for use in gene editing and drug discovery experiments. Techniques students learn in our lab include cell culture, bioprinting, immunofluorescence and microscopy, nucleic acid and protein purification, qPCR, western blotting, working with mice, contraction experiments, and more!

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