Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Professor Named Canada Research Chair in Placental Biology

Jul 23, 2019

Headshot of Dr. Isabelle Caniggia.Dr. Isabella Caniggia Each year, the Government of Canada names new and returning Canada Research Chairs, a group of world-class scientists and scholars who are working on new discoveries and innovations that help Canada's environment, health, communities and economy thrive. This year, our Department is proud to announce that one of our faculty members, Dr. Isabella Caniggia, has become a new Canada Research Chair in Placental Biology in Pregnancy and Disease.

Dr. Caniggia is currently a professor with UofT ObGyn and a Senior Investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute of Sinai Health System. She received her MD cum laude from the University of Siena, Italy and completed her Residency training in Pediatrics at the University of Perugia, Italy. Following research training at the Hospital for Sick Children, she obtained her PhD degree. After her academic training experiences, she decided to devote her entire career to research in the field of preeclampsia. This was a personal choice due to the fact that her younger sister is severely affected by cerebral palsy because her mother experienced preeclampsia during pregnancy. Over the years, Dr. Caniggia and her team have substantially contributed to the knowledge of molecular mechanisms determining cell fate in the human placenta. Dr. Caniggia research focuses on areas of health and disease which have a great burden on women, children, their families, and the Canadian health care system: preeclampsia and IUGR.

“Canada has built a strong research enterprise that supports talented researchers in all disciplines," said Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. "By working together and using state-of-the-art equipment and labs, researchers are well positioned to advance knowledge and address some of the world’s most pressing concerns.”

The Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP), which became a permanent program almost 20 years ago, invests approximately $265 million per year to attract and retain a diverse cadre of world-class researchers, to reinforce academic research and training excellence in Canadian postsecondary institutions. Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Including Dr. Caniggia, there are now 1,836 Canada Research Chairs at universities across Canada, with over 270 of these chairs from the University of Toronto.

Congratulations Dr. Caniggia!

Click here to read more about the Canada Research Chairs Program.

Read more about Dr. Caniggia's career below:

Dr. Caniggia is a Senior Investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute of Sinai Health System, and a Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Physiology and Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Toronto.  She received her MD cum laude from the University of Siena, Italy and completed her Residency training in Pediatrics at the University of Perugia, Italy. Following research training at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, she obtained her PhD degree.

After her academic training experiences, she decided to devote her entire career to research in the field of preeclampsia. This was a personal choice due to the fact that her younger sister is severely affected by cerebral palsy because her mother experienced preeclampsia during pregnancy. Her work on the molecular mechanisms regulating normal placental development and diseases including preeclampsia and IUGR is internationally recognized. She was the first to discover the importance of proper HIF-1a and TGFb3 signalling, including endoglin, in preeclampsia and to report that abnormalities in oxygen sensing define early and late-onset preeclampsia as distinct pathologies.

She has recently addressed the importance of Jumonji C Domain-Containing protein 6 (JMJD6), a novel oxygen sensor that requires oxygen and Fe2+ to function, in pregnancy, and discovered novel mechanisms impairing its function in preeclampsia. Her current research interests include understanding the molecular basis of how hypoxia via HIF/TGFß axis as well as iron homeostasis regulate placental cell fate and function, as well as defining novel oxygen and iron sensing mechanism in normal and preeclamptic placenta. Dr Caniggia and her team have substantially contributed to knowledge of molecular mechanisms determining cell fate in the human placenta. Dr. Caniggia was the first to identify a novel splice variant of the pro-apoptotic BOK protein and to address its relevance in preeclampsia and IUGR. She has reported that disruption in the rheostat of BOK and its pro-survival partner MCL1contributes to elevated placental cell death and autophagy in preeclampsia. Dr. Caniggia and her team have recently published on the significance of sphingolipid metabolism in preeclampsia and IUGR and have put forward the concept that preeclampsia can be regarded as a new “sphingolipid storage disorder.”

Dr. Caniggia new line of investigation stemming from a funded grant from NIH, is to establish lipid signatures that can predict the trajectory of normal pregnancies and can be used as novel biomarkers for adverse pregnancy outcomes as preeclampsia, IUGR and gestational diabetes mellitus. Current research in Dr. Caniggia laboratory is aimed at defining the impact of specific bioactive sphingolipids on placental cell fate and particularly on the interplay of lipids and BOK on mitochondrial dynamics, necroptosis, lysosomal biogenesis and ferroptosis, a new mode of cell death linked to iron.  Her lab is also investigating epigenetic changes of genes involved in oxygen and iron homeostasis in the human placenta, and is currently establishing new murine genetic model of preeclampsia with the future objective of screening small molecule inhibitors and natural compounds that restore iron homeostasis for their potential to correct the preeclamptic phenotype.

During her career Dr. Caniggia received numerous honors and awards including the Ontario Women’s Health CIHR/IGR Mid-Career Award, the Castellucci Award from the International Federation of Placental Associations and, more recently, the National Bank Business Excellence Award in Arts, Science and Culture from the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario for my innovative research. Her work is funded by CIHR, NIH and NSERC and she hold several patents related to the discovery of diagnostic markers for preeclampsia and IUGR. 

Overall, Dr. Caniggia research focuses on areas of health and disease which have a great burden on women, children, their families, and the Canadian health care system: preeclampsia and IUGR. These complications lead to emotional distress for the family and result in tremendous costs to society and to the health care system. Her research shedding light on the underlying pathophysiology of preeclampsia and IUGR has immediate bench-to-bed translational relevance. This knowledge will underpin the development of diagnostics and interventions aimed at improving health outcomes for the mother and offspring in pregnancy across Canada and throughout the world.

______________________________________

Don't want to miss a post? Follow us on social media for more news!

FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | TWITTER

If you would like to be a guest blogger, please contact us at obgyn@utoronto.ca.