Karen Racicot received a BS from the University of Florida in 2002 and graduated with a PhD from The Pennsylvania State University in 2009, majoring in Animal Science with a focus on Reproductive Biology and Immunology. Afterwards, she completed post-doctoral training in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, primarily working with murine models of polymicrobial infections during pregnancy. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology within the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University.
The main objective of my research program is to understand the regulation of inflammation and innate immune cells at the maternal-fetal interface and determine how they affect fetal development and maternal health. The lab uses human clinical samples, primary cells, immortalized cell lines, and has developed multiple animal models of pregnancy and infection(s) that are used to dissect the mechanisms of placental and maternal responses to pathogens and other environmental challenges.
Three major research projects include:
1) Defining how in utero inflammation caused by environmental factors results in atypical fetal development and offspring disease. Maternal adiposity, viral/bacterial infection and toxins have all been shown to induce placental inflammation and are associated with the development of multiple diseases in the future offspring. Our studies address how dysregulation of the placenta or maternal immune response affects fetal programming and development of diseases such as allergic asthma.
2) Characterizing the role of placental microflora in fetal immune development. While historically the upper reproductive tract was thought to be a sterile environment during pregnancy, there is now evidence the healthy placenta is home to a vibrant microflora. We hypothesize the fetal environment is influenced by both the presence of these microflora and the placental/maternal response that they elicit, and they contribute to the development and maturation of the fetal immune system.
3) Identification of non-invasive biomarkers that are predictive of placental function in early pregnancy. We aim to identify “biological signatures” during early pregnancy that are associated with abnormal or insufficient placental development and offspring disease. This test will have the potential to be a screening tool used to determine if women require treatment to ensure placental and fetal health.