Photo: Rame Abdulkader
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Adamo Lab project found new benefits from exercise during pregnancy

The Adamo Lab, based at the University of Ottawa Lees Campus, is known to have pursued the first project of its kind—researching the relationships between physical activity during pregnancy in the regulation of gene expression and metabolic function of the placenta.

The Fulcrum spoke with the head of the research team, Dr. Kristi Adamo, to find out more.

“The concept that pregnant women are not sick, but going through a set of natural changes is something that really needs attention,” she said. “These women have largely been ignored in research. Thus our knowledge about how they respond to various exposures is unknown, and that needs to change.”

Adamo believes that there is much in the field of maternal health that could use improvement, some prominent ones being excessive weight gain during pregnancy and postpartum weight retention.

“I hope (our research) will advance the field by identifying what sort of healthy behaviours women can have during pregnancy to decrease the health risks to their child, as well as potentially across their child’s lifespan.”

The team’s current project, called the PLACENTA study, looks at the role of regular exercise and diet on the long-term health of the fetus by analyzing the composition of a fresh placenta.

Adamo’s inspiration to pursue placenta research originally sprouted from her interest in childhood obesity. She noticed a correlation between childhood obesity and maternal obesity during her early research. “I often saw women that never had weight issues until pregnancy,  gained too much weight … and were unable to lose (it) afterwards, causing them to become overweight. Then, I became interested in how the intrauterine environment leads to programming of the baby’s future health, which led me to placenta research.”

Lab technicians need to get to a new placenta within half an hour of birth to get all the information they need for their studies. To accomplish this, Adamo’s “placenta squad” is on-call with their mobile lab, waiting for the call from hospital staff to spring into action. The project, in collaboration with local hospitals, is the only one of its kind in the world.

“It never ceases to amaze me that when you engage in a conversation about placenta with virtually anyone, they are fascinated,” said Adamo. “They know little about it but have a multitude of questions. On many occasions, I have drawn a picture (in crayon) of the placenta on the paper table cloth in restaurants … with my daughter’s hockey team. Both parents and kids gather around to listen to my explanations. It is quite fun.”

“The dream for this research is to be able to inform all women of childbearing age how to maximize the health benefits for their future children.” said Adamo. “This is particularly important for women with obesity, since healthy behaviours during pregnancy and early childhood years can contribute to ‘breaking’ the intergenerational cycle of obesity.”

Are you interested in learning more about placenta research? Adamo is also currently recruiting postdoctoral candidates and Ph.D. students to work at the lab. Visit The Adamo Lab website to learn more.