Alison Care

Dr Alison Care

Ext-Funded Research Fellow (C)

School of Biomedicine

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.


Each year, an estimated 76,000 women and 500,000 babies will die due to preeclampsia, a serious complication of pregnancy and one of the leading causes of maternal and perinatal deaths globally. An estimated 300 million women and their children worldwide have survived preeclampsia and are at greater risk of long-term complications like heart disease. With no effective treatment or cure, preeclampsia disproportionately affects women in remote and disadvantaged communities with limited access to medical care.

As Heart Foundation Future Fellow at the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, I am challenging how we study, screen and treat the condition. Preeclampsia is severely under-researched and underfunded. If we don’t understand the causes, we’re never going to be able to develop targeted treatments and prevention measures. I am among a handful of researchers investigating how the immune and vascular systems interact to help the body adapt to a pregnancy.

I am the Pregnancy and Birth Theme Leader and Research Leader at the Robinson Research Institute, and lead the Vascular Immunology in Pregnancy research group. My multidisciplinary research team brings together both immunology and vascular biology to understand what causes preeclampsia. I collaborate with researchers globally to integrate the latest research and technology advances, and work closely with Australian clinicians so my research has a pathway to mothers and children.

Preeclampsia is a whole-of-body, whole-of-life condition

Where most research has focused on either the immunology or the vascular biology of preeclampsia, I am one of just a handful of researchers globally combining both fields and looking at how the immune system and vascular system dynamics cause pregnancy complications. As well as delivering a better understanding of the causes, this unified research approach will help us to develop screening tools for diagnosing the disorder, as well as identifying early signs of cardiovascular disease after a complicated pregnancy. 

Screening tools and intervention

A better understanding of the potential causes and triggers of preeclampsia can inform more effective screening tools to identify at-risk women. With my team, we are seeking to develop screening tools that will account for established risk factors, such as obesity and age, while also examining immune system and vascular function to identify all the deficiencies that might trigger preeclampsia. This would allow for intervention at both early and later stages of the pregnancy.

Studies have found that women with preeclampsia have fewer regulatory T cells. These immune cells help regulate or suppress other cells in the immune system and are crucial to the development of the placenta; they are also important to long-term cardiovascular health. We are working to develop targeted immune interventions that can boost regulatory T cell numbers and vascular interventions to improve vascular function, to reduce preeclampsia impacts and improve long-term postpartum cardiovascular health.

Reversing the damage

Through collaboration with the postpartum screening clinic at the Lyell McEwin Hospital established by cardiologist Margaret Arstall, the COFFEE Clinic, I will use non-invasive testing to capture additional measures of vascular function and build a more complete picture of the impact of pregnancy complications.

At the COFFEE Clinic, patients who have previously had severe cases of preeclampsia or other pregnancy disorders are monitored for key health factors and provided personalised health advice. We are looking to capture measures of vascular function using non-invasive measures such as retinal scanning, which provides insight into systemic vascular health, and can reveal changes in microvascular function.

Together, we will be able to broaden our understanding of what is happening postpartum, and how we can reduce the whole-life impact of preeclampsia.

Impact

My focus is to ensure that women from disadvantaged and remote communities in Australia and abroad can benefit from my work. In Adelaide’s CBD, the rate for preeclampsia is around 2-5%. At the Lyell McEwin Hospital, 30 minutes north of Adelaide, the rate is as high as 10%. In regions and countries with reduced access to healthcare facilities that number can increase to 17%.

Preeclampsia affects mothers and infants for life. It can also impact subsequent pregnancies. We need to develop more effective ways of diagnosing and treating this condition, so that we reduce the impact globally.

Vascular Immunology in Pregnancy Research Group - Current Student Projects

The research projects in the Vascular Immunology in Pregnancy research group are run collaboratively with the Reproductive Immunology group, headed by Professor Sarah Robertson.

Project 1 

Title: Regulatory T cells drive vascular adaptations in early pregnancy to facilitate placental development

Supervisors: Dr. Alison Care, Prof. Sarah Robertson

Description: Preeclampsia is a complication that affects 5-8% of pregnancies worldwide, and poses a significant risk to maternal and infant health. There is currently no treatment for preeclampsia, and therefore up to 12% of infants are born small for gestational age and 20% are born preterm. As such, preeclampsia contributes to long-term health complications in offspring as well as postpartum women. The syndrome is characterised by impaired placental development, which reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. The anti-inflammatory immune cell, regulatory T cells (Treg), are essential for maternal immune tolerance to the developing fetus and placenta. We have also shown that Treg cells have an integral role in driving the vascular changes that occur during a healthy pregnancy. Accumulating evidence implicates dysregulation of maternal Treg cells in abnormal placental development and the development of preeclampsia. In this project, we will use tissue from a mouse model of preeclampsia to assess placental development. We will investigate how the maternal immune cells assist in the development of the placenta, and their role in facilitating vascular changes required to enable sufficient blood flow to the fetus.

Skills learned during this project: Flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, tissue collection, ultrasound biomicroscopy, data collection, analysis and interpretation.

Project available for: Honours and HDR

Location: Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences Building, North Terrace

Research project start: Semester 1 and 2

Project 2

Title: Regulatory T cell boosting strategies to improve outcomes in complicated pregnancies

Supervisors: Dr. Alison Care, Prof. Sarah Robertson

Description: Extensive immune adaptations are required in a healthy pregnancy. In preeclampsia, the adaptive immune response and T cell balance are disrupted, favouring a pro-inflammatory environment. Regulatory T cells (Treg) are a specialised T cell subset that suppress inflammation and prevent maternal immunity (i.e. immune rejection) towards the fetus. Tregs are key regulators of vascular function, notably in atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, where infusion of Tregs can reverse hypertension. Tregs are also implicated as regulators of vascular function in pregnancy. There are fewer Tregs with reduced anti-inflammatory function in the circulation, decidua and placenta of PE women and in rodent models of PE. In this study, we will determine whether bolstering Treg cell number and function may be a rational therapeutic strategy for the underlying condition of PE. This project will form the groundwork for future development of novel Treg cell-based diagnostic tests for PE.

Skills learned during this project: Flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, tissue collection, ultrasound biomicroscopy, data collection, analysis and interpretation.

Project available for: Honours and HDR

Location: Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences Building, North Terrace

Research project start: Semester 1 and 2

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2019 - 2022 Heart Foundation of Australia Future Leader Fellow University of Adelaide
    2015 - 2018 NHMRC CJ Martin Fellow University of Adelaide
    2012 - 2016 Postdoctoral Research Fellow University of Alberta
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2018 Award Newcastle Emerging Research Leader Award Society for Reproductive Biology Australia
    2017 Award International Best Abstract Trainee Travel Award Australia/New Zealand at the Society for the Study of Reproduction Reproduction, Fertility and Development and the Society for the Study of Reproduction United States AUD $800
    2017 Nomination Nomination for the University of Alberta Award for Outstanding Mentorship in Undergraduate Research University of Alberta Canada
    2016 Award MedStar Award for best research publication in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry University of Alberta Canada CAD $1000
    2014 Award Best Poster Presentation Society for Gynecologic Investigation Italy USD $100
    2014 Award Women and Children’s Health Research Institute Travel Award The University of Alberta Canada CAD $1000
    2014 Award Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, Travel Award, National Competition Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Canada CAD $1000
    2013 Award 1st Place Oral Presentation, Postdoctoral Fellow category Women and Children’s Research Institute Research Day Canada CAD $100
    2013 Award Best Poster Presentation Western Perinatal Research Meeting Canada CAD $100
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2007 - 2012 University of Adelaide Australia Doctor of Philosophy
    2001 - 2004 University of South Australia Australia Bachelor of Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology with Honours
  • Postgraduate Training

    Date Title Institution Country
    2005 - 2006 Graduate Certificate in Science and Technology Commercialisation University of Adelaide Australia
  • Research Interests

Grants and Funding

2022-2024 The immune response as a determinant of female reproductive investment. CI-A Robertson SA, CI-B Care AS, AI Garratt M ARC Discovery Grant $636,438
2021-2025 A novel interaction between the immune and vascular systems in early-onset preeclampsia: An opportunity for new treatments? CI-A Care AS, CI-B Parry L, CI-C Moldenhauer L NHMRC Ideas Grant $921,622

2019-2022

Immune cells in preeclampsia – a target for cardiovascular disease?

CI-A Care AS

Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship

$520,000

2018

Vevo 3100 Ultrasound Biomicroscope for the Adelaide Biomed City Precinct

CI-A Gatford K, CI-B Care AS

Ian Potter Foundation Medical Research Grant

$200,000

2018-2019

The utility of resveratrol in improving fetal growth in complicated pregnancies

CI-A Care AS; AIs Robertson SA, Davidge ST, Moldenhauer LM, O'Leary S

Channel 7 Children's Research Foundation

$74,260

2015-2017

Inflammatory cytokines as causal agents in peri-conception programming of offspring health/ APP1079150

CI-A Robertson SA, CI-B Thompson JG, CI-C Brown H, AI Care AS

NHMRC

$585,276

2013-2017

Effects of Advanced Maternal Age on Vascular Adaptations in Pregnancy and Subsequent Maternal and Offspring Cardiovascular Health

Care AS is a co-investigator with CI-A Davidge ST.

Canadian Institutes of Health and Research (CIHR)

CAD $563,708

2015-2018

Impaired cardiovascular-immune interactions in preeclampsia                                               

CI-A Care AS

NHMRC CJ Martin Early Career Fellowship

$330,948

2013-2014

Postdoctoral Fellowship  

CI-A Care AS

Heart and Stroke Foundation Canada (HSFC)

CAD $83,000  

2013- 2014

Postdoctoral Fellowship

CI-A Care AS

Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (AIHS)

CAD $165,000

2007- 2010

Postgraduate Scholarship    

Care AS

NHMRC Dora Lush Biomedical Scholarship

$79,209

2011

Frontiers in Reproduction Scholar – 6 week training course at MLB, USA.                     

Care AS

Marine Biological Laboratory, Burroughs Wellcome Fund 

USD $6,500

                         

 

 

Postgraduate Teaching
2017-present Assessor, Honours Research Projects, Adelaide Medical School
2017-present Assessor, Honours Research Projects, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine
Undergraduate Teaching

Teaching Assistant, University of South Australia, Australia

Teaching and laboratory demonstrations for undergraduate 1st year Physiology 100 students.

Thesis Examination

University of Auckland (2019)

  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2021 Principal Supervisor Immune cells in preeclampsia – a target for cardiovascular disease prevention? Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Evangeline Alice Ksenija Lovell
    2020 Principal Supervisor Immune cell regulation of vascular function in fetal and placental development Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Shanna Leah Hosking
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2019 - 2021 Co-Supervisor The role of macrophages in vascular adaptation to pregnancy in mice Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Holly Michelle Groome
  • Other Supervision Activities

    Date Role Research Topic Location Program Supervision Type Student Load Student Name
    2019 - 2020 Principal Supervisor The utility of resveratrol in expanding regulatory T cell populations to improve pregnancy outcome University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Shanna Hosking
    2018 - 2019 Principal Supervisor The effect of regulatory T cell deficiency on fetal growth and uterine artery remodelling University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Jacqueline Humphries
  • Committee Memberships

    Date Role Committee Institution Country
    2019 - ongoing Member Government Affairs Committee Society for Reproductive Investigation United States
    2018 - ongoing Co-Chair In-Training Membership Committee Society for Reproductive Investigation United States
    2017 - 2018 Co-Chair Local Organising Committee Society for Reproductive Biology Australia
    2017 - ongoing Council In-Training Membership Committee Society for Reproductive Investigation United States
    2014 - 2016 Vice-President Postdoctoral Fellows Association, VP Communication University of Alberta Canada
  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    2017 - ongoing Member Healthy Development Adelaide Australia
    2012 - ongoing Member Women and Children’s Health Research Institute Canada
    2012 - ongoing Member Society for Reproductive Investigation United States
    2011 - ongoing Member Society for the Study of Reproduction United States
    2007 - ongoing Member Society for Reproductive Biology Australia
  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2019 - ongoing Board Member Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Cambridge University Press Australia
  • Position: Ext-Funded Research Fellow (C)
  • Phone: 83131504
  • Email: alison.care@adelaide.edu.au
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences, floor 6
  • Org Unit: Medical Sciences

Connect With Me
External Profiles