Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Obstetrics and Gynaecology Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Research Opportunities

The following is an overview of current basic science research going on under the auspices of members of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Western.  If you are a graduate student looking for a niche, we strongly urge you to get in touch with the individuals cited.

The Babwah Lab

Work is focused on understanding how a region of the brain called the hypothalamus, through the actions of a major hormone called the gonadotropin releasing-hormone (GnRH), regulates the timely onset of puberty or the attainment of fertility. Normal puberty begins between ages 8 and 14 in girls and between 9 and 14 in boys. Puberty, however, for some children comes much sooner, much later, or in many cases, never occurs and thereby contributes to the estimated 35-70 million infertile couples worldwide. GnRH is the master regulator of the reproductive axis. Absent or diminished GnRH secretion leads to a condition referred to as hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (HH). HH can be manifested during late fetal development and throughout post-natal life. Early manifestation of HH leads to the failure of a child to undergo puberty and secondary sexual development. This condition impacts negatively on the quality of a child’s life in both early and late teenage life and is linked to increased depression, promiscuous sexual behavior, increased targets of sexual predation, drug-abuse and increased suicidal tendencies amongst teen-agers. 

By understanding the molecular basis of GnRH secretion, novel therapies can be developed to treat the condition of HH and thereby ensure that children undergo puberty and normal sexual development and hence enjoy a great quality of life.  We have recently developed several mouse models to study GnRH secretion. These models will allow us to conduct an array of in vivo, ex vivo and in vitro studies to test various hypotheses we have developed.

Dr. Babwah is looking forward to recruiting new trainees to his lab. Anyone with an interest in human physiology, particularly, reproductive endocrinology should contact him. Read more

The Hardy Lab

The main focus of thelaboratory is investigating the role of nuclear receptors in fetal programming.  While emerging epidemiological evidence suggests that the risks of adult onset diseases are inversely related to birth weight, very little is known about the genetic and/or epigenetic changes which underlie these alterations in fetal and postnatal development. Numerous animals models including maternal caloric and/or nutrient restriction, along with chemically induced gestational diabetes, hypoxia, LPS-invoked inflammation, glucocorticoid exposure, and decreased dietary protein have broadened our understanding how in utero insults may lead to restricted fetal growth. However, understanding the overall role of transcription factors involved in mediating these developmental abnormalities would provide us with better strategies in preventing the onset of adult diseases in mammals.

To address the molecular mechanisms underlying these ‘programmed' changes in nuclear receptor binding and downstream target genes, we employ chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) in tissues and in cells to examine the in vivo binding of nuclear receptors to their respective promoters throughout fetal development. This helps us identify the crucial subset of lipid-sensing nuclear receptors underlying these fetal programming events. Moreover, the use of ChIP in vivo and in vitro further enhances our understanding of how epigenetic modifications are involved in the coordinated control of gene transcription during normal and abnormal fetal development. Read more

The Mann Lab

Research in this lab focuses on epigenetic mechanisms that control gene expresssion, spedifically on genomic imprinting.  More specifically, we are investigating the molecular and develpmental effects of in-vitro embryo culture.  This research will further our understaning of epigentic mechanism involved in genomic imprinting during normal embryonic and fetal development, and will provide the biologic basis for crucial considrations relevant to the treatment of human infertility by ARTs. Read more

The Regnault Lab

This lab is currently looking at early environmental (during pregnancy) regulation of gene expression and organ development in the developing fetus asking the question, "How does early experience exert a sustained influence on postnatal metabolic function?"

Placental insufficiency and altered fetal nutrient supply is associated with reduced overall fetal development and growth, leading to Fetal Growth Restriction (FGR,) which represents approximately 5-7% of newborns. This altered growth comes about through a reprogramming of fetal physiology to maximize survivability in a sub-optimal in utero environment. There are now reports that these fetal alterations increase the likely hood for the development of insulin resistance and obesity in later life, as well as other associated diseases which are grouped together in the term Metabolic Syndrome. Read more

The Richardson Lab

Current research activities are in the following three areas:

  1. Study of the impact of pregnancy conditions, labour, and labour related events on fetal/neonatal inflammatory processes at the time of birth.  We have been studying normal low risk pregnancies as well as those with adverse pregnancy conditions including fetal growth restriction, pregnancy induced hypertension, and post dates pregnancies, and the impact on proinflammatory/anti-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines measured in the umbilical cord blood at the time of delivery.
  2. Study of the utility of monitoring fetal brain electrical activity and heart rate variability as measures of well-being during labour in high risk pregnancies to better delineate need for expedited delivery.  This study has initially been in chronically catheterized fetal sheep near term to determine the feasibility of acquiring satisfactory brain electrical measurements from the fetal scalp as well as their changes in relationship to varying hypoxic-acidemic insult and thereby the clinical utility for identifying such.
  3. Study to determine the impact of chronic hypoxemia with fetal growth restriction in pregnant guinea pigs on measures of brain development with a focus on neuronal connectivity and white matter development.  Using pregnant guinea pigs near term studies have been undertaken to determine the effect of induced fetal growth restriction on markers of neuronal connectivity and white matter myelinization using immunohistochemistry. Read more

The Shepherd Lab

Exciting research projects are currently available for Graduate students, Residents, and Honours students

Read more

The Watson Lab

Dr. Watson’s research investigates the mechanisms controlling development of the fertilized oocyte through the first week or preimplantation period of development, which prepares the early embryo for uterine implantation and initiation of pregnancy.  He has supervised or co-supervised the research of 20 graduate students and currently supervises 3 graduate students. 

His work is focused on understanding the earliest stages of development which includes the period from fertilization to implantation to the uterus and the beginnings of pregnancy.  All of our studies use an animal model to investigate this early period of development.  Results from animal studies can be translated to the human and help clinicians develop better ways of helping couples with fertility problems conceive and have their families.  Research has demonstrated that the very beginning of development has a major impact on not only whether pregnancy will occur but also on the health of the fetus, newborn, child and even on susceptibility to disease in advanced life.  Thus it is important to ensure that safe and efficient methods are applied in the clinic to ensure that the assistance provided to couples with fertility challenges not only allows them to start their family but also ensures that their family will enjoy the best health possible throughout their lifetime. Read more

The Yang Lab

Dr. Yang has established an international collaboration with Professor Gang Sun at Fudan University, China, to investigate factors that contribute to premature delivery.  They have recently secured funding from CIHR and Natural Science Foundation of China to support this joint research initiative.  Dr. Yang has also initiated two new research projects: one examining how caffeine consumption during pregnancy may lead to low birth weight, and the other studying how BPA exposure during pregnancy may impact on fetal organ growth and maturation.

Dr. Yang has trained four postdoctoral fellows, all of whom are in senior academic positions.  He has also trained numerous graduate, undergraduate, and summer students, with some of them taking up academic and management positions. Read more