Andrea Edlow MD, MSc
Andrea Edlow, MD, MSc
MGH Research Scholar 2024-2029
Physician Investigator, Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital
Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Harvard Medical School

Understanding Maternal Immunity Across Pregnancy: Implications for Maternal Health and Fetal Development

Even before birth, environment matters. A mother’s exposures in pregnancy impact not only the mother, but also the placenta and the developing fetus, with potential short- and longer-term consequences.

As an obstetrics and gynecology physician-scientist at Mass General, I have dedicated my career to understanding maternal immunity, including: (1) how immune-activating maternal exposures impact fetal development and child outcomes and (2) how shifting maternal immunity across trimesters can be harnessed to optimize vaccines for both maternal and infant protection.

My lab works to understand how in utero exposures affect fetal brain development, impacting risk for childhood neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or learning disabilities.

For example, we showed that maternal obesity can affect offspring learning and memory, and the regions of the brain responsible for those functions.

More recently, we identified cells accessible at birth, in both placenta and umbilical cord blood, that can help identify children at high risk for neurodevelopmental consequences after specific maternal exposures.

On the other hand, some maternal exposures before birth have a positive impact: we’ve shown that maternal vaccination against diseases like COVID-19 can help to protect not only mothers but also vulnerable newborns.

Our laboratory helped to build a unique Mass General Brigham pregnancy biobank to study the effects of infections during pregnancy, and the benefits of maternal vaccination for both mother and neonate.  Findings from these banked samples helped drive policy decisions about whether to vaccinate for COVID-19 in pregnancy, and demonstrated how timing of infection or vaccination across trimesters impacts both maternal and infant immunity. We hope findings from this biobank will lay the groundwork for development of the next generation of vaccines and their use to maximize protection for the mother-infant dyad.

As an MGH Research Scholar, I will leverage our biobank to rapidly assemble patient cohorts and answer timely questions about novel vaccines and emerging pathogens in pregnancy. I will also create personalized models of fetal brain development that are linked to electronic health record-based and in-person longitudinal follow-up, so we can track the health impact of maternal exposures over time.

Understanding how maternal exposures impact both pregnancy outcomes and the developing fetus is more critical now than ever. The MGH Research Scholars award will allow us to develop personalized models of fetal development that can help identify children at increased risk for neurodevelopmental consequences after maternal exposures. In addition, the award will provide key support to expand our pregnancy biobank, allowing us to continue to answer timely questions about novel vaccines and emerging pathogens in pregnancy.

Andrea Edlow, MD, MSc
MGH Research Scholar 2024-2029