Claire Roberts

Professor Claire Roberts

Lloyd Cox Professorial Research Fellow

Adelaide Medical School

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

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


Professor Claire Roberts is a graduate of Flinders University (BA 1985) and the University of Adelaide (BSc 1988, BSc Hons 1990, PhD 1995). She is Deputy Director of the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide South Australia where she leads the Pregnancy and Birth Theme and the Cohort and Intergenerational Studies Facility.

Claire Roberts is a placental biologist and pregnancy researcher. Her research takes a bench to bedside approach and includes in vitro and animal models, and human pregnancy cohort and placental studies to unravel the complex cellular and molecular mechanisms that underpin dynamic placental differentiation and function across gestation, fetal growth and development and pregnancy success.

Claire has a strong interest in clinical and lifestyle factors such as maternal BMI, socio-economic and micronutrient status that together interact with genetic factors to influence health in pregnancy and beyond.

Claire Roberts’ research has been funded by NHMRC, NIH NICHD, the Premier’s Science and Research Fund SA government and Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation.

Research Projects
1. Screening for risk for pregnancy complications and applying results of basic research to clinical problems

We were funded by Government of South Australia to develop predictive tests for couples' risks for complications of late pregnancy, specifically preeclampsia, IUGR, preterm birth and gestational diabetes. This is the Adelaide arm of the SCOPE (SCreening fOr Pregnancy Endpoints) project. SCOPE is an international consortium of clinicians and scientists who by the end of 2011 had assembled a biobank and detailed clinical and lifestyle database for 5,628 women pregnant for the first time and their partners. Recruiting has ceased in all SCOPE centres.  In Adelaide we initially undertook a targeted gene approach and aimed to identify maternal and paternal genes that determine a couple's risk prior to the development of symptoms. These genes have already been shown to be important in the control of placental development, cardiovascular disease, inflammation and cancer. We have a particular interest in how the father imparts risk for pregnancy complications in the mother and baby.
We have recently developed 3-tiered algorithms to predict risk in early pregnancy for subsequent preeclampsia, preterm birth, IUGR and gestational diabetes using combinations of genetic, clinical, family history and lifestyle factors.
We began recruiting women to the Screening Tests to Predict Poor Outcomes of Pregnancy (STOP) study in March 2015. We aim to validate our risk prediction algorithms in this cohort. We expect to have recruited 1,400 women to this cohort by the end of 2017. We will utilise our new software designed to provide an individualised probability of risk for each couple in the STOP Study. We will also continue to collect important clinical and lifestyle data about each pregnancy and health of both mother and child to answer new questions in obstetric research including effects of maternal diet and micronutrient supplementation on pregnancy outcome.
We have another cohort Predicting Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes (PAPO) in whom women suffer recurrent pregnancy complications but primarily recurrent spontaneous miscarriage (RSM). It appears that RSM is in the continuum of pregnancy complications associated with poor placentation. We aim to elucidate molecular mediators in RSM and identify potential therapeutic targets for subsequent development and testing.

 

2. The role of Vitamin D in the placenta and pregnancy success

In recent years, vitamin D has emerged as a micronutrient important for optimal pregnancy outcome. In women, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with complications of pregnancy including preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction, gestational diabetes, preterm birth and a greater need for caesarean section but the data are conflicting. Although our understanding of the specific functions of vitamin D in pregnancy is scant, it seems likely that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in complicated pregnancies because robust regulation of vitamin D activation and degradation occurs locally in the placenta. Animal studies have shown that maternal vitamin D deficiency is associated with excessive inflammation in the uterus underlying the placenta (decidua) that impacts fetal growth and health.
Perhaps the best known function of vitamin D is in the maintenance of calcium balance. Indeed, calcium supplementation in women with low dietary calcium has been shown to prevent preeclampsia. However, little is known of the mechanisms by which vitamin D and calcium act in the placenta and in maternal adaptation to pregnancy. We are working to elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which vitamin D and calcium affect placentation and pregnancy outcome.

 

3. Developing omic profiles in maternal blood that reflect those in the placenta

We have been funded by NIH NICHD to develop a non-invasive method to assess placental function across gestation in real time. Using our biobank of placental samples obtained right across gestation with matched maternal blood samples we have been using genome and epigenome wide sequencing technologies to profile placental health. These will be integrated with other data we hold about these pregnancies that indicate aspects of placental function. 

 

4. Epigenetic programming of placental and fetal development

The placenta is derived from the conceptus and is therefore genetically identical to the fetus. Perhaps the best known function of the placenta is to transport gases, nutrients and wastes between mother and fetus. However, the placenta also plays a major role in orchestrating maternal adaptation to pregnancy by secreting a variety of steroid and peptide hormones. These placental hormones stimulate maternal physiological changes that are essential for pregnancy success. To facilitate these functions the placenta invades the decidua, colonizing and transforming the uterine spiral arterioles to sequester a maternal blood supply for efficient maternal-fetal exchange. Invading placental extravillous cytotrophoblasts employ molecular mechanisms that closely match those of a metastatic tumor but unlike cancer this process is strictly controlled both spatially and temporally in the placenta. Such mechanisms are not fully understood but include complex interactions between both extravillous cytotrophoblasts and maternal endothelium and leukocytes.
Emerging evidence suggests that epigenetic regulation of the placental transcriptome is important for the molecular control of placental growth and differentiation. However, the epigenetic landscape affecting placental gene expression may be different to that in other healthy tissues and the role of epigenetic modifications, and particularly DNA methylation, in placental development remains largely unknown. Of particular interest is the fact that the placenta is the most hypomethylated human tissue and is characterized by the presence of large partially methylated domains (PMDs) containing silenced genes. We are working to understand how and why the placenta is hypomethylated and what role DNA methylation plays in regulating placental gene expression across gestation.

 

5. Interactions between maternal micronutrient status, obesity and metabolic health in disadvantaged women 

Large numbers of pregnant women supplement with folic acid in Australia to prevent neural tube defects. This has been shown to be effective for this purpose. However, many supplement formulations that target pregnant women also include a number of other micronutrients with or without good evidence for their benefits. There are some data suggesting positive effects on maternal health and others showing that deficiencies affect child health and well being. There are some data that show that some groups of women benefit such as those who are obese but not all. We aim to determine how maternal status for various micronutrients interacts with obesity, placental genetics and epigenetics to affect maternal and child outcomes.

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  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2017 Lloyd Cox Professorial Research Fellow University of Adelaide
    2015 Deputy Director Robinson Research Institute
    2015 Convenor Healthy Development Adelaide
    2014 Pregnancy and Birth Theme Leader Robinson Research Institute
    2012 - 2016 NHMRC Senior Research Fellow B University of Adelaide
    2011 - 2012 Senior Research Fellow University of Adelaide
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2016 Award Inflammation in Reproduction, Pregnancy and Development $2,000.00
    2015 Fellowship Fellow of the Society for Reproductive Biology
    2015 Award Professor Donald Cheek Award $2,500.00
    2015 Award Lloyd Cox Strategic Research Excellence Award $50,000.00
    2014 Award School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health Award for Excellence in HDR Supervision $500.00
    2012 Award ASPIRE International Congress Osaka Japan $4,000.00
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    1995 University of Adelaide Australia PhD
    1990 University of Adelaide Australia BSc Hons
    1988 University of Adelaide Australia BSc
    1985 Flinders University Australia BA
  • Research Interests

Research Grants

(*CT Roberts is first named / sole Chief Investigator)

2011-2012 Role of the renin-angiotensin system vasodepressor pathways in pregnancy NHF grant in aid #1002813 K Denton, C Tikellis, CT Roberts, R Widdop, R Brown $129,000
2011 DNA damage and recurrent pregnancy loss Bonnie Babes Foundation D Furness, CT Roberts, GA Dekker, D McCormack $20,000
2012-2014 *The role of Vitamin D in placentation and pregnancy success NHMRC Project Grant GNT1020754 CT Roberts, PH Anderson, GA Dekker $699,625
2012-2016 *Senior Research Fellowship B NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship GNT1020749 CT Roberts $716,855
2012 Assessment of the placental colonisation of Fusobacterium nucleatum following experimentally induced periodontitis in the mouse and its effect on pre-term birth Australian Dental Research Foundation JE Stamford, P Zilm, CT Roberts, CL Marchant $5,715
2013-2016 Regulation of the placental renin-angiotensin system by microRNAs; implications for pregnancies complicated by placental insufficiency? NHMRC Project Grant GNT1043537 ER Lumbers, CT Roberts, B Morris, F Broughton Pipkin $466,385
2014-2016 *Fetal sex: an important determinant of the placental transcriptome NHMRC Project GNT1059120 CT Roberts, VL Clifton, C Shoubridge, T Bianco-Miotto, SJ Bent $534,021.50
2014 Cytokine profiles in serum and placenta of pregnant mice following experimentally induced periodontitis Australian Dental Research Foundation P Zilm, T Fitzsimmons, CT Roberts $13,760
2014 Investigating the transcriptome of Fusobacterium nucleatum to explain its role in periodontal disease, adverse birth outcomes and systemic health Australian Dental Research Foundation P Zilm, SP Kidd, FT Sumawi, CT Roberts $11,432
2014-2017 *Screening Tests to Predict Poor Outcomes of Pregnancy  (STOP) Study University of Adelaide CT Roberts, GA Dekker $2,000,000
2015 An evaluation of the effect of bacterial contamination on teeth stained with blood in vitro Australian Society of Endodontology P Zilm, CT Roberts, T Fitszimmons $4,543.20
2015  *Lloyd Cox Strategic Research Excellence Award Lloyd Cox O&G Research Fund
University of Adelaide
CT Roberts $50,000
2015 Obesity and Prostate Cancer Risk Waite Research Institute Research Capacity Development Funding T Bianco-Miotto, K Kind, C Rodrigues Lopez, J Breen, CT Roberts, S Buckberry $23,500
2016 Lloyd Cox Strategic Research Excellence Award Lloyd Cox O&G Research Fund
University of Adelaide
CT Roberts $65,000
2016 Genetic and early life determinants of childhood obesity Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation P Andraweera, CT Roberts, GA Dekker $35,000
2016-2020 EMPOWER: health systems, adversity and child well being NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence APP1099422 J Lynch, M Sawyer, B Mol, CT Roberts, G Dekker, N Stocks, S Schurer, L Gurrin
N Dwyer, K Bowering
$2,497,573
2016   Investigation of the extra-oral migration and virulence determinants of Fusobacterium nucleatum subsp. nucleatum and their role in adverse birth outcomes Australian Dental Research Foundation K Tian, P Zilm, S Kidd, CT Roberts $13,874
2016-2020 Maternal molecular profiles reflect placental function and development across gestation Using Omics to Define Human Placental Development and Function Across Pregnancy NIH oppRFA-HD-16-036 1 R01 HD089685-01 CT Roberts, GA Dekker, T Bianco-Miotto, JM Breen, AK Smith US$ 953,209
2016 Interactions between micronutrients, metabolic health, obesity and pregnancy outcome Faculty of Health Sciences Seed Funding CT Roberts $14,400

 

Industry Sponsored Research
2010-present Prediction of preeclampsia Funds shared across SCOPE Consortium
Alere San Diego USA
  $1,050,000
2010-2011    Prediction of Preeclampsia with proteomics Pronota NV, Ghent, Belgium   $33,000
2011       Prediction of Preeclampsia Mosaiques Diagnostics and Therapeutics GmbH, Hannover, Germany      $15,000
2015 *Validating algorithms that predict risk for pregnancy complications Commercial Accelerator Scheme
Adelaide Research and Innovation Pty Ltd.
CT Roberts, GA Dekker $45,000
2015 *Validating algorithms that predict risk for pregnancy complications Industry Partner Matching Funds for Commercial Accelerator Scheme
Foresight Health, Adelaide
CT Roberts, GA Dekker $45,000
 
Research Grants Pending  
2017-2021 *Combining ‘omics to predict pregnancy complications

NIH NICHD

Global "Omics" Approaches Targeting Adverse Pregnancy and Neonatal Outcomes Utilizing Existing Cohorts (R01) PAR-14-264

CT Roberts, AK Smith, GA Dekker, T Bianco-Miotto, JM Breen, A Rajakumar US$2,764,033
2018-2022 Health in Pregnancy and Beyond: Discovery and Translation APP1136877 NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship CT Roberts $782,370
2018-2020 Interactions between micronutrients, metabolic health, obesity and pregnancy outcome APP1140752 NHMRC Project Grant CT Roberts, GA Dekker, T Bianco-Miotto, AV Perkins, J Grieger  
2018-2020 Understanding the impact of early life adversity on child neurodevelopment 
and psycho-social health
APP1140767 NHMRC Project Grant CT Roberts, N Hodyl, J Lynch, M Sawyer, GA Dekker, T Bianco-Miotto, PH Andraweera  
2018-2021 Maternal health in the 10 years following first pregnancy with and without a  pregnancy complication in a disadvantaged population APP1140760 NHMRC Project Grant CT Roberts, GA Dekker, M Arstall, S Jesudason, PH Andraweera, T Bianco-Miotto, J Grieger  
Equipment Grants    
2012 xCELLigence DP real-time cell analyser  Robinson Foundation Equipment Grant CT Roberts, SA Robertson, JA Owens $40,000
2012 xCELLigence DP real-time cell analyser DVCR Equipment Grant University of Adelaide CT Roberts $40,000
2012 Sanyo oxygen -controlled cell culture incubator Research Centre for Reproductive Health Small Equipment Grant CT Roberts $10,000
2012 DakoLink IHC Solution: Autostainer Link48 + PT Link DVCR Equipment Grant University of Adelaide R Gibson, J Bowen, L Butler, CT Roberts $68,500
         
                                                    
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  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2018 Co-Supervisor Investigation of miRNA Expression in Placenta and Maternal Plasma in Response to Pregnancy Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Melanie Denise Smith
    2018 Principal Supervisor Characterisation of the Placental Transcriptome to Identify Molecular Signals of Pregnancy Complications Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Konstantinos Justinian Bogias
    2018 Principal Supervisor Antenatal Antecedents of Maternal and Child Health Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Maleesa Melanie Pathirana
    2018 Co-Supervisor Pregnancy Complications and Risk of Future Cardiovascular Disease Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mrs Emily Louise Aldridge
    2017 Principal Supervisor Epigenome and transcriptome profiling of the placenta throughout gestation Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Qianhui Wan
    2017 Principal Supervisor Pregnancy Complications and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Michelle Desley Plummer
    2017 Co-Supervisor Infant and Mother safety following tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis(Tdap) vaccination during pregnancy (IMSAFE) Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Hassen Ibrahim Mohammed
    2017 Co-Supervisor A novel intervention strategy to prevent IUGIR intrauterine growth restriction Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Harleen Kaur
    2017 Co-Supervisor The role of macrophages in the development of placental vasculature Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Holly Michelle Groome
    2017 Co-Supervisor The effect of micronutrients in oxidative stress, proliferation and apoptosis in placenta Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Nahal Habibi
    2016 Principal Supervisor Early life adversity, child neurodevelopment, cognitive ability and mental health Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Amy Jade Alice Garrett
    2016 Co-Supervisor Health-e Babies App: Evaluating the clinical effectiveness of a smart phone application to compliment antenatal care Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Ms Julia Dalton
    2011 Principal Supervisor Prediction of Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes - Recurrent Miscarriages Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Dr Catherine McCormack
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2015 - 2018 Principal Supervisor Omic Characterisation of Placental Development and Phenotype Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Benjamin Thomas Mayne
    2014 - 2018 Principal Supervisor The Influence of Micronutrients on Placental Development and Pregnancy Outcome Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Miss Rebecca Louise Wilson
    2013 - 2015 Principal Supervisor Hypoxia Induced HIF-1/HIF-2 Activity alters Trophoblast Transcriptional Regulation across Gestation Master of Philosophy (Medical Science) Master Full Time Mrs Sultana Mahabbat-e Khoda
    2012 - 2015 Principal Supervisor An Integrative Analysis of the Human Placental Transcriptome Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Sam Buckberry
    2012 - 2016 Co-Supervisor Effects of Fetal Sex and Genetics on the Bovine Placenta - From Baseline Data to Fetal Programming and Heterosis Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Consuelo Amor Estrella
    2011 - 2015 Co-Supervisor Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Early Origins of Metabolic Syndrome Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Jing Zhou
    2011 - 2015 Principal Supervisor Predicting Risk for Pregnancy Complications Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Shalem Yiner-Lee Leemaqz
    2011 - 2013 Co-Supervisor Imprinted Gene Expression and Phenotype of Bovine Concepti with Bos taurus and Bos indicus Genetics Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Mani Ghani Poor Samami
    2011 - 2015 Principal Supervisor The Effect of Vitamin D on Placental Development and Pregnancy Success Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Jessica Phillips
    2009 - 2012 Principal Supervisor Renin Angiotensin System Polymorphisms and Pregnancy Complications Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Ang Zhou
    2008 - 2012 Principal Supervisor Angiogenesis Regulating Gene Polymorphisms in Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Prabha Hemamali Andraweera
    2005 - 2008 Principal Supervisor Insulin-Like Growth Factor -II and its Role in Blastocyst Development, Implantation and Placentation Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Kirsty Pringle
    2004 - 2007 Principal Supervisor The Pivotal Role of Insulin-Like Growth Factors in Pregnancy Success Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri
    2003 - 2006 Co-Supervisor The Physiological Significance of Insemination in Programming Pregnancy Outcome Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr John Bromfield
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  • Committee Memberships

    Date Role Committee Institution Country
    2003 - 2008 Member Women’s and Children’s Hospital Young Investigator Award Committee, 2006 Chair Scientific Judging Committee
  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    2017 - ongoing President International Federation of Placenta Associations
    2011 - 2014 Treasurer International Federation of Placenta Associations
    2004 - ongoing Board Member International Federation of Placenta Associations
    2004 - ongoing Member Research Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Adelaide
    1998 - ongoing Member International Federation of Placenta Associations
    1998 - ongoing Secretary Australian and New Zealand Placental Research Association
    1998 - ongoing Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand
    1996 - ongoing Chair Australian Society for Medical Research
    1991 - ongoing Chair Society for Reproductive Biology
  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2012 - ongoing Member Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology
    2008 - 2013 Member Placenta
  • Position: Lloyd Cox Professorial Research Fellow
  • Phone: 83133118
  • Email: claire.roberts@adelaide.edu.au
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences, floor 6
  • Room: WS6067
  • Org Unit: Adelaide Medical School

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