Dr Lara Morley
I graduated from the University of Leeds in 2010 with a degree in medicine. I also studied medical microbiology during an intercalated degree year, which first introduced me to laboratory research. Studying malaria parasite binding in the placenta for my dissertation project made me aware of the vital role of the placenta in ensuring a healthy pregnancy. I am passionate about women's health and ensuring that pregnancy is safe for both mother and baby. My interest in academic medicine has continued and I took up an Academic Foundation post whilst working as a house officer in the West Yorkshire deanery. Having worked in Obstetrics and Gynaecology as a trainee, I became an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow.
To spend more time in the laboratory conducting research at Leeds Institution of Cardiovascular Research (LICAMM) i applied to the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) from the University of Leeds for 6 months. From there I successfully applied to the Medical Research Council (MRC) and was awarded PhD funding jointly with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. I am also passionate about making clinical decisions based on the highest quality available evidence and have therefore been involved in writing Cochrane reviews, a BMJ best practice guideline and scientific impact paper for the RCOG, alongside local guideline and audit work.
I am now in the second year of my PhD researching placental blood flow, supervised by Professor David Beech and Mr Nigel Simpson, with support from Dr Karen Forbes and Professor James Walker. My affinity for Leeds University has continued as a postgraduate and I am an enthusiastic teacher in obstetric themed tutorials and student projects. Within the University community, I am part of the Leeds Female Leaders Network and have spoken at a Women Rising event, giving advice about successfully returning to work after parental leave. I enjoy being part of the academic medical community in Yorkshire, regularly attending and presenting at local meetings.
Healthy pregnancy relies on the rich network of blood vessels that supplies the baby with oxygen and nutrients: the placenta. Impaired placental function can result in a variety of gestational disorders, including premature birth, life-threatening high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia) and fetal growth restriction (FGR). FGR can result from poorly functioning blood vessels within the placenta. This is where a baby does not meet its expected weight during pregnancy, and may even stop growing. If this goes undetected, the baby is at risk of stillbirth. In all, 1 in 5 first time mums will be affected by one of these problems.
There are currently no treatments for placental dysfunction other than delivery of the baby - often prematurely. Specialist neonatal care may be required alongside lifelong support for neurodevelopmental delay. Maternal health can also be affected, with pre-eclampsia remaining a significant cause of maternal morbidity and mortality, particularly in the developing world. The financial, societal and emotional burden of placental dysfunction is almost immeasurably high- both in the UK and globally. Being born smaller than expected due to FGR has additional consequences including greater risks of heart disease and diabetes in later life. Poor health in adulthood risks placental dysfunction in the next generation.
There is therefore an urgent need to develop new strategies to break this cycle of impaired growth and improve placental function. My research in Leeds is aimed at understanding the molecular controllers of placental blood flow. Through identifying novel drug targets, we hope to move towards new treatments for FGR.
I teach and mentor students and have taken responsibility for ESREP, EXCEL scholarships and Mres projects. I have spoken at career advice sessions, discussing academic career pathways and training in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Research groups and institutes
- Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine
- Section of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
- Discovery and Translational Science
- Multidisciplinary Cardiovascular Research Centre