Hormonal and Mechanical Interactions During Pregnancy

Pregnancy subjects the pregnancy patient's body to significant biological and mechanical changes - as pregnancy hormones surge, the growing fetus continuously loads virtually all maternal organs. In response, the patient's soft tissues grow and remodel to support a healthy pregnancy. The Pregnancy Research and Engineering Group (PREG) is interested in understanding how these biological and mechanical cues interact to drive soft tissue growth and remodeling during pregnancy. We combine experimental with computational techniques to understand these interactions.

Heart Growth During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the patient's heart grows in size - up to 30% in mass and volume by the end of the pregnancy. Hemodynamic and hormonal changes are individually known to modulate heart growth - yet how they interact during pregnancy is unclear. To understand these interactions, we use a multiscale computational model that couples a systems biology model with a mechanical growth model. Currently, we are applying this model to understand postpartum remodeling of the heart - because pregnancy-associated heart failure occurs most commonly between 43 days to 1 year after delivery - and hypertensive pregnancies. In addition, we are experimentally validating our model predictions at multiple scales - from intracellular to the organ level. 

Uterine Growth and Remodeling During Pregnancy

The uterus transforms from a thick-walled structure that holds less than 10 mL of fluid into a thin-walled structure that can hold upwards of 5000 mL within 9 months of pregnancy. Further, the uterus remodels and shrinks back to the nonpregnant state after delivery, only to repeat the same process in a subsequent pregnancy. Proper mechanical function of the uterus is critical for a healthy pregnancy. For example, if the uterus contracts too early, the pregnancy can result in a preterm birth - the leading cause of neonatal death. Currently, how the uterus grows, remodels, and remains relaxed during pregnancy is unclear. Therefore, we characterize how uterine growth, remodeling, and loading affect uterine mechanical function during pregnancy.

Funding Sources

American Heart Association

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Pregnant Black Woman