Jacinta is a dual Lecture and Post-doctoral researcher in the College of Engineering, Science and Environment and the HMRI Infertility and Reproduction Research Program. Jacinta works with a multidisciplinary group of researchers using human and animal models to characterise the processes of gamete maturation (the process by which oocytes and spermatozoa are formed).
Prior to returning to UON in 2021, Jacinta was a Post-doctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Professor Rima Slim at the McGill University Health Centre and McGill University in Montreal, Canada (2019-2021). Here her research centered on elucidating the role of meiosis genes in the ontogenesis of molar pregnancies. A molar pregnancy — also known as hydatidiform mole — is a rare complication of pregnancy characterized by the abnormal growth of trophoblasts, the cells that normally develop into the placenta. Jacinta’s work focused on determining the specific mechanisms behind recurrent mole formation using unique mouse models and RNA sequencing technologies.
Prior to relocating to Canada, Jacinta worked as part of the Mothers and Babies Research Centre at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) under the auspices of the Priority Research Centre for Reproductive Sciences. With Associate Professor Kirsty Pringle, Jacinta’s research focused on understanding what underscores a healthy pregnancy by examining how components of the circulating renin-angiotensin system (RAS), a hormone network that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance, functions to ensure healthy placental development. During her tenure in the Pringle group, Jacinta’s goal was to contribute to the development of innovate new laboratory models of preeclampsia so that the group might uncover how key components of the RAS contribute to placental formation and the development of this pathology.
Previous Experience: I completed a Bachelor of Biotechnology (Honours) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) under the supervision of Prof. Brett Nixon, Dr Elizabeth Bromfield and L. Prof. John Aitken at the University of Newcastle, Australia in 2019. My doctoral studies were focused on developing an understanding of the quality control mechanisms used by the egg and early embryo to ensure DNA quality. Specifically, my work focused on the protective strategies afforded by efflux transporter proteins, DNA Repair pathways and the contribution of novel pro-survival factors on egg and embryo quality. These findings have provided a critical framework for the continued development of novel ways to preserve egg/embryo quality in the clinic and thus may contribute to improvements in contemporary assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation or IVF.
I chose to study Reproductive Biology because, like many families, my family has been affected by pregnancy loss. While my family have always been open about the loss of my sister and have always celebrated her as an integral member of our family, her loss was also the source of a significant amount of grief that had a major impact on my family. This grief fueled my desire to study this field of research in the hope of preventing this happening to other families.
As a result, I decided to study a biology-based degree here Newcastle and ultimately joined the Reproductive Science group studying female fertility as an Honours then PhD student. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a topic that I wasn’t only interested in but also passionate about and has since led me to continue a career in academia first studying placental development as a Post-doctoral researcher (2019) at HMRI, the molecular determinates of early Pregnancy Loss at McGill University in Montreal (2020-2021) before returning to Newcastle in 2021 as dual lecturing and research academic studying the effects of toxicant exposure during gestation.
The ultimate goal of my research would be to improve our understanding of factors that lead to infertility and pregnancy loss in women. Affecting as many as 20% of all couples annually, these diagnoses constitute a significant health burden whose consequences extend beyond childlessness but are also documented as a leading cause of anxiety and depression in women with a pervasive impact on a woman’s health and wellbeing, that may persist for months following a lost pregnancy.
It is my hope that the information that we secure in these projects might transform clinical practice and dramatically reduce the significant emotional and financial burden associated with infertility and pregnancy loss and allow these couples to achieve their dream of starting or adding to their family.
The focal areas of my current and future research are:
I also maintain an active interest in female gamete biology, maintenance of genomic integrity for oncofertilty management, embryogenesis and developmental biology.