Not Going Viral: How the Placenta Protects the Fetus

Congratulations to MMG faculty member Carolyn Coyne, PhD and MMG Post Doctoral Associate Elizabeth Delorme-Axford, PhD. The pair were featured in the Fall 2013 issue of the Pitt Med magazine for their collaborative efforts with Dr. Yoel Sadovsky from the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences.

A grad student looking for a dissertation project. A mentor/virologist with a sudden personal interest in the fetus. Said student coincidentally sitting in on a lecture given by a man who has dedicated his research life to women’s and fetal health. These are apparently the optimal preconditions for creating one of the first teams to begin sorting out how the placenta protects the fetus from viral infection.

Elizabeth Delorme-Axford (PhD ’13) was the student. (She is now a postdoctoral associate in microbiology and molecular genetics here at the University of Pittsburgh.) In 2008, while rotating through labs, she alighted in that of virologist Carolyn Coyne, PhD associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics.

“I was pregnant, and no one knew,” says Coyne. “I was sitting under a tissue culture hood, purifying viruses. It was pretty early on in my pregnancy, and I thought, Should I be doing this?” She wondered whether the viruses she’d been working with might harm her developing baby. To Google she went.

“And there was nothing! How is this not known?!” Perhaps, Coyne thought, Delorme-Axford—who, it so happened, was pregnant at the time of this interview—would be interested in helping her turn the unknown into the known. And she was.

View and read the entire story here.