Petra Arck, MD, is a full professor of Experimental Feto-Maternal Medicine and Head of the Division for Experimental Feto-Maternal Medicine at the Department of Obstetrics and Fetal Medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg. She currently serves as the Dean of Research at the Medical Faculty of the University of Hamburg.
Her academic career includes stations at McMaster University and the University of Toronto as a post-doctoral fellow, followed by faculty positions at the Charité, University Medicine Berlin, and McMaster University Hamilton, Canada, where she received a Canada Research Chair. She joined the University of Hamburg in 2010.
Petra Arck has authored and co-authored over 200 research articles and has given over 300 plenary, keynote, or invited lectures. Supporting highly motivated young medical and natural scientists is very important to her. She supervised approx. 30 medical doctoral students, 15 PhD students and 16 post-doctoral fellows. Many of her former graduate students and postdocs are pursuing academic careers four have become faculty members by now.
She received numerous research awards and honors, such as an Doctor honoris causa of the University of Pecs in Hungary, the research award of the German Chamber of female Physicians and others. She is listed among the top female immunologists in Germany.
Petra Arcks main research focus is to improve the understanding of temporal and spatial immune adaptation in mother and fetus during pregnancy, i.e. in response to prenatal challenge. She is the speaker of the Clinical Research Unit 296, entitled ‘Feto-maternal immune cross talk’, funded by the German research Foundation.
Children’s health is critically determined by fetal growth and development. The placenta as the interface between mother and fetus crucially supports fetal development, i.e. via the vertical transfer of growth factors, nutrients and oxygen. Moreover, maternal pathogen-specific antibodies are shuttled across the placenta to the fetus and subsequently mitigated the risk for early life infections.
Besides the short-lived antibodies, maternal immune cells can be found in the offspring, albeit at very low frequencies. Therefore, they are referred to as maternal microchimeric cells (MMc). Across mammalian species, MMc can be detected in a variety of fetal, neonatal, and even adult organs, including lymphoid tissues. It has long been debated whether MMc play a functional role in the offspring’s organism, or are simply accidental placental spillovers.
Emerging evidence supports that MMc convey health advantages for the offspring, such as the promotion of immune tolerance and the correction of shortcomings of the offspring’s immune system. Data from our group support that MMc induce alterations of the transcriptome and methylome in hematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow. Hereby, a preferential differentiation towards myelopoiesis is promoted in murine offspring. Neonates with MMc-triggered higher monocyte frequencies show an improved resilience against cytomegalovirus infection.
Besides these effects in bone marrow, we also show that MMc control microglia in the offspring’s brain in mice. Single-cell RNA sequencing of MMc reveals a unique signature of sensome markers among transcriptionally distinct microglia clusters. Functionally, MMc maintain fetal microglia homeostasis and prevent excessive presynaptic elimination.
Taken together, insights highlighting the importance of maternally derived markers in promoting fetal development and postnatal health advantages will be discussed during the DIAD lectures.
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