Placental Scientific Working Group


Scientific Working Group Leadership:

Lisa Bebell, MD, Co-Director:
Dr. Bebell is an Instructor at Harvard Medical School and Assistant in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she attends on the Infectious Disease Consult service. Her HIV-related background and activities include a HU CFAR Development Award (2017-2019) titled “Placental inflammation: A mechanism for poor outcomes in HIV-exposed, uninfected infants”. This grant supported enrollment of a prospective cohort of 352 pregnant women in Uganda to collect placentas, obstetric and medical history, and determine the prevalence of placental inflammation in WLWH compared to HIV-uninfected comparators. Dr. Bebell then leveraged results from this CFAR study to secure a Career Development Award from the NIAID (K23AI38856) to enroll a larger cohort of 300 WLWH and 150 HIV-uninfected comparators in Uganda to study associations between placental inflammation and early child health outcomes, including changes in passive immunity neurodevelopment. Simultaneously, a grant from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Burroughs Wellcome Fund will allow Dr. Bebell to enroll 150 HIV-uninfected women taking PrEP to study the effects of PrEP on placental structure, and compare these results and early child health outcomes to participants enrolled in the K23 cohort. 

Rebecca Zash, MD, Co-director:
Since 2013, Dr. Zash have been working with the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) in Botswana, an organization founded more than 20 years ago a collaboration between Harvard University and the Botswana Ministry of Health. Through the framework established by this collaboration, Dr. Zash has investigated birth outcomes among WLWH, who remain at higher risk of poor outcomes like stillbirth, preterm delivery and low birthweight compared to HIV-uninfected women. She has also published significant findings on the safety of antiretroviral medications in pregnancy, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Her current research projects aim to understand the risk factors and mechanisms for adverse pregnancy outcomes among HIV-infected women on ART in order to figure out interventions to improve birth outcomes and decrease childhood morbidity and mortality. She has also been involved in the CFAR Reproductive Health Working Group and leveraged that platform to help co-create the placental working group. 

Scientific Priorities:
1. Convene 1) a Boston-regional group of scientists engaged in placental research on a quarterly basis, and 2) a national/international group of placental scientists in a symposium focused on placental science among women living with HIV.
2. Mentor young investigators within the Harvard University system interested in placental science and define a mechanism for pilot funding to launch these junior investigators.
3. Develop a grant proposal for a collaborative placental research effort involving both senior and junior scientist members of the PSWG.

Provide consultations in the following areas:
• Scientific consultations on grants
• Connect members to collaborators with expertise

Perform the following developmental services:
• Development of specific aims, projects, and grant proposals in the area of placental science in collaboration with the CFAR Developmental Core

Provide training in the following areas/skills:
• Placental dissection and histopathologic analysis