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Institute for Infectious Disease Translational Research

  • A medical provider talking with a pregnant woman

Project 2: Infections in Pregnancy

Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases persist in the most vulnerable: pregnant mothers and their babies. 

Project Significance

Despite their devastating maternal-child health impacts, the biological pathways of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are unknown. Sadly, this leaves clinicians with a lack of effective intervention options to triage mothers and newborns at-risk for severe disease, prevent infections in utero, treat their long-term symptoms or stop potentially fatal consequences.

Research Innovation

Our project fills the scientific research gap by using patient samples to inform basic science studies. 

Research Questions

Define the host-pathogen characteristics of three congenital infectious diseases associated with peripartum persistent infection leading to placental colonization and subsequent congenital transmission.

Pregnant women infected with key pathogen subclades will have significantly higher odds of congenitally infected neonates—by species, these subclades are: T. pallidum subspecies pallidum Nichols strain and tp0136-tp0968 recombinant genes, (Chagas disease) T. cruzi DTUs I and V, and dengue virus type II. Infected pregnant women with chromosome 6’s HLA and complement pathway gene downregulation will have higher odds of vertical transmission. Similarly, infected pregnant women with lower serum titers of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1β and IL-18), CD4+ T-cells, and matrix metalloproteinases will be more likely to transmit T. pallidum to their fetus.

Pregnant women and their neonates will be recruited from two high endemic areas: Columbia, South Carolina and San Salvador, El Salvador. Patients with positive lab results will be approached for study enrollment. Infected mothers will be asked to provide testing samples at time of diagnosis and at time of delivery. With pathogenesis studies and evolutionary analysis, we aim to better understand the vertical transmission of these infections and calculate the transmission risk factor for each disease.

By revealing the histological, genetic, and immunologic pathways leading to vertical transmission of the infectious disease from mother to child, we hope to identify potential therapeutic targets.

SC Impact

While this research will improve the lives of all individuals in South Carolina, Pregnant Women and their Newborns will greatly benefit from this project’s focus area and the institute’s work at large. 


Institute for Infectious Disease Translational Research

    Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.