King's Fellows receive prestigious Investigator Award

King's Fellows, Professor Ashley Moffett and Dr Francesco Colucci, have jointly received an Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust.

Photo of Moffett and Colucci
Professor Ashley Moffett (left) with Dr. Francesco Colucci (right).

The highly competitive Investigator Awards are designed to fund 'world-class researchers and clinicians with a compelling long-term vision for their research'. Ashley and Francesco's research focuses on the biology of human pregnancy, specifically its common and distressing disorders.

From their previous research, Ashley and Francesco highlighted certain immune system genes in mothers and babies that may predispose to pregnancy complications. In the pregnant uterus, a mother has special immune cells which have receptors for sensing the baby’s immune molecules. The mother’s receptors (called KIR) and the baby’s immune molecules (called HLA) are genetically variable. In other words, there are different combinations of maternal KIR and baby's HLA variants in each pregnancy.

Given these different combinations, Ashley and Francesco want to explore how this range of combinations affects reproductive success. By comparing the maternal KIR and the baby’s HLA in normal pregnancy to those with pregnancy disorders (such as pre-eclampsia or recurrent miscarriage), they will investigate how maternal immune cells and fetal cells cooperate for reproductive success.

"More than 10% of the burden of disease worldwide is linked to problems of pregnancy, childbirth and infancy,” explains Francesco. “We will now study the genetics of 10,000 mother and children, including 2,000 in Africa to pin down the immune system genes responsible for diseases of pregnancy. We will also use transformative new methods to understand for the first time how the molecular conversation of maternal immune cells and fetal cells impacts on these diseases."

Further information about Ashley and Francesco's research is available from their Nature Communications article and their PNAS article.

Ashley Moffett is a University Professor in Reproductive Immunology, based in the Department of Pathology. Francesco Colucci is a University Reader at the School of Clinical Medicine, based in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. More information about Ashley is available from her departmental page and about Francesco from his group's page.

21 April 2016