Dr Rebecca Vanders

Dr Rebecca Vanders

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy

Better health for mums and babies

Dr Rebecca Vanders’ work is contributing to innovative new treatments for pregnant women, their babies, and those trying to conceive.

Rebecca is a passionate women’s health advocate. Her research is specifically focused on maternal health issues, including infertility caused by endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, the effects of cigarette smoking during pregnancy, and maternal immune system changes. Above all, Rebecca’s work is about helping pregnant women and their babies stay healthy.

“My ultimate research goal is for women to be able to have a successful pregnancy from conception to birth and that children born to these women have a high quality of life.”
Combating maternal health vulnerabilities

Rebecca’s current research seeks to understand why pregnant women are more vulnerable to serious respiratory virus infections, such as influenza, and how their health can be protected through targeted, safe interventions.

“During every respiratory pandemic, pregnant women—especially those with underlying comorbidities like asthma—rank amongst the highest mortality rates of all susceptible groups.”

Throughout pregnancy, a woman’s immune system naturally alters to accommodate the presence of her growing baby. Slightly lowered defence mechanisms allow a baby to grow healthily—so the mum’s immune system doesn’t attack the new life—but it also leaves expecting mums vulnerable to certain viruses, like respiratory infections.

“These viruses can take advantage of the woman’s altered state, negatively affecting her health during pregnancy.”

As yet, researchers don’t know exactly how changes to the maternal immune system increase a woman’s risk of experiencing serious complications caused by respiratory virus infections. But by examining how key antiviral cells change during pregnancy, Rebecca is uncovering new insights into how our bodies work—and what’s causing maternal health vulnerabilities.

“We have found that, during pregnancy, respiratory virus infections such as the flu cause certain cells to become ‘exhausted’. This prevents cells from functioning properly to fight off the infection.

“Understanding how the immune system is altered following viral infection can allow us to design effective intervention strategies to save lives for both mothers and their unborn babies.”

Designing safer treatment options

Based on their research findings, Rebecca and her team are working on a new therapy to reverse cellular exhaustion during pregnancy, allowing key immune cells to fight off invading pathogens.

“If we can develop a treatment for pregnant women that protects them from the adverse outcomes of respiratory virus infections, especially during pandemics, this would quite literally save their lives."

“So far, the therapy has proved to not only improve a woman’s immune responses to the virus infection, it also has flow-on benefits for their children that we’re only just beginning to understand.”

For most expecting mothers, their baby’s safety is top of mind. So when health challenges strike, it can be difficult for women to know which treatments are safe, both for themselves and their little ones.

“When developing new treatments, one of our biggest challenges is to create strategies that are not only completely safe during pregnancy but that pregnant women will feel comfortable taking.”

Rebecca and her team are determined to meet these challenges head-on. Their newly designed therapy to help safeguard expecting mothers from deadly respiratory infections has already showed promising results, which are due to be published in 2019. Over the next year, the therapy will continue to undergo further refinements.

Hope for the future

Rebecca’s work is providing critical hope to millions of women. It’s also contributing to important, and potentially life-saving, conversations worldwide. In recent years, Rebecca has presented at national and international conferences, authored multiple papers, and received two fellowships, including the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand Astra Zeneca Early Career Research Fellowship and and a highly competitive NHMRC Early Career Fellowship.

In 2018, Rebecca was among 15 highly talented researchers invited to participate in the University’s ThinkWell Early and Mid-Career Women’s Development Program, facilitated through the Faculty of Health and Medicine's Gender Equity Committee. The invitation was a nod to Rebecca’s evident career success so far—and served to further cement her research ambitions.

“In my opinion, pregnancy is the most wonderfully fascinating and complicated immune state created in a women’s body. It is so perfectly designed and yet so complicated to understand—which is both exciting and motivating!"

“I feel proud and humbled to be working in a research area that is helping to save the lives of mothers and their unborn children.”

Better health for mums and babies

Dr Rebecca Vanders’ work is contributing to innovative new treatments for pregnant women, their babies, and those trying to conceive.

Read more

Career Summary

Biography

Biography

Dr Rebecca Vander is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow with the University of Newcastle’s School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy. Her research is contributing to new maternal health treatments by exploring challenges faced by women during pregnancy: conditions such as asthma, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and viral infection.

Rebecca completed Honours in Microbiology and Genetics in 2008, followed by a PhD (Medicine) with an APA scholarship at the University of Newcastle in 2013, where she received the prestigious Vice Chancellor’s Award for Academic Excellence and achieved second place in the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition.

After her PhD, Rebecca secured a post-doctoral research position at the University of Newcastle, supported by early career research fellowships from NHMRC and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand Astra Zeneca.

Rebecca has presented her work at multiple national and international conferences, including the American Thoracic Society International Conference in New Orleans and the AstraZeneca National Respiratory Leadership Summit. She has also participated in several public radio interviews and authored nine abstracts (including seven first-author abstracts).

Rebecca is currently researching the maternal immune system and, specifically, the role it plays in putting women at higher risk of serious respiratory virus infections during pregnancy. One of her major discoveries was that key immune cells, including DCs and CD8 T cells, are altered during pregnancy, but that by blocking PDL1:PD1 interactions, maternal antiviral immunity can be restored. These findings were published in the second-highest ranking respiratory journal: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. They have also led Rebecca into the next phase of her research career: helping to design a new therapy that can reverse cellular exhaustion during pregnancy, allowing cells to fight off invading pathogens.

Qualifications

  • PhD, University of Newcastle
  • Bachelor of Science, University of New England
  • Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences (Hons), University of New England

________________________________________

Keywords

  • Asthma
  • Children's Health
  • Immunology
  • Influenza
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory Medicine
  • Respiratory Virus
  • Women's Health

Languages

  • English (Mother)
  • Italian (Working)

________________________________________

Fields of ResearchCode Description         Percentage

110203  Respiratory Diseases      33

111402  Obstetrics and Gynaecology       33

110707  Innate Immunity              34

________________________________________

Professional Experience

Academic appointment

Dates    Title       Organisation / Department

1/01/2016 -current         NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow     Priority Research Centre (PRC) for Healthy Lungs | The University of Newcastle

Biomedical Science and Pharmacy

Australia

1/02/2013 - 1/02/2015    TSANZ Early Career Research Fellow       Priority Research Centre (PRC) for Healthy Lungs | The University of Newcastle

Biomedical Science and Pharmacy

Australia



Qualifications

  • PhD, University of Newcastle
  • Bachelor of Science, University of New England
  • Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences (Hons), University of New England

Keywords

  • Asthma
  • Children's Health
  • Immunology
  • Influenza
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory Medicine
  • Respiratory Virus
  • Women's Health

Languages

  • English (Mother)
  • Italian (Working)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
110203 Respiratory Diseases 33
111402 Obstetrics and Gynaecology 33
110707 Innate Immunity 34

Professional Experience

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/01/2016 -  NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow Priority Research Centre (PRC) for Healthy Lungs | The University of Newcastle
Biomedical Science and Pharmacy
Australia
1/02/2013 - 1/02/2015 TSANZ Early Career Research Fellow Priority Research Centre (PRC) for Healthy Lungs | The University of Newcastle
Biomedical Science and Pharmacy
Australia
Edit

Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Journal article (8 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2017 Camlin NJ, Jarnicki AG, Vanders RL, Walters KA, Hansbro PM, McLaughlin EA, Holt JE, 'Grandmaternal smoke exposure reduces female fertility in a murine model, with great-grandmaternal smoke exposure unlikely to have an effect', HUMAN REPRODUCTION, 32 1270-1281 (2017) [C1]
DOI 10.1093/humrep/dex073
Citations Scopus - 4Web of Science - 3
Co-authors Eileen Mclaughlin, Janet Bristow, Philip Hansbro
2016 Camlin NJ, Sobinoff AP, Sutherland JM, Beckett EL, Jarnicki AG, Vanders RL, et al., 'Maternal Smoke Exposure Impairs the Long-Term Fertility of Female Offspring in a Murine Model.', Biol Reprod, 94 39 (2016) [C1]
DOI 10.1095/biolreprod.115.135848
Citations Scopus - 23Web of Science - 20
Co-authors Philip Hansbro, Jessie Sutherland, Eileen Mclaughlin, Emma Beckett, Janet Bristow
2015 Vanders RL, Murphy VE, 'Maternal complications and the management of asthma in pregnancy', Women's Health, 11 183-191 (2015) [C1]

© 2015 Future Medicine Ltd. Pregnancy is a unique state requiring alterations in maternal physiology to accommodate the growing fetus. Whilst the maternal immune system is normall... [more]

© 2015 Future Medicine Ltd. Pregnancy is a unique state requiring alterations in maternal physiology to accommodate the growing fetus. Whilst the maternal immune system is normally well adept at performing this task, the presence of immune disorders, such as asthma, often lead to pregnancy-related complications affecting both mother and baby. Australia has a high prevalence of asthma; with approximately 12% of pregnant women reported to have current asthma. Poor control of asthma is of far greater risk than the use of asthma medications. Being able to identify complications associated with asthma during pregnancy is of great importance in providing appropriate asthma management and medical care to these pregnant women, which may have lifelong consequences for their offspring.

DOI 10.2217/whe.14.69
Citations Scopus - 5Web of Science - 4
Co-authors Vanessa Murphy
2015 Vanders RL, Murphy VE, Gibson PG, Hansbro PM, Wark PAB, 'CD8 T cells and dendritic cells: Key players in the attenuated maternal immune response to influenza infection', Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 107 1-9 (2015) [C1]

© 2014 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. Pregnancy provides a unique challenge for maternal immunity, requiring the ability to tolerate the presence of a semi-allogeneic foetus, and yet still... [more]

© 2014 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. Pregnancy provides a unique challenge for maternal immunity, requiring the ability to tolerate the presence of a semi-allogeneic foetus, and yet still being capable of inducing an immune response against invading pathogens. To achieve this, numerous changes must occur in the activity and function of maternal immune cells throughout the course of pregnancy. Respiratory viruses take advantage of these changes, altering the sensitive balance of maternal immunity, leaving the mother with increased susceptibility to viral infections and increased disease severity. Influenza virus is one of the most common respiratory virus infections during pregnancy, leading to an increased risk of ICU hospitalisations, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and even death. Whilst much research has been performed to understand the changes that must take place in maternal immunity during pregnancy, considerable work is still needed to fully comprehend this tremendous feat. To date, few studies have focused on the alterations that occur in maternal immunity during respiratory virus infections. This review highlights the role of dendritic cells (DCs) and CD8 T cells during pregnancy, and the changes that occur in these antiviral cells following influenza virus infections.

DOI 10.1016/j.jri.2014.09.051
Citations Scopus - 8Web of Science - 8
Co-authors Peter Gibson, Philip Hansbro, Vanessa Murphy, Peter Wark
2013 Vanders RL, Gibson PG, Murphy VE, Wark PAB, 'Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cells and CD8 T Cells From PregnantWomen Show Altered Phenotype and Function Following H1N1/09 Infection', JOURNAL OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, 208 1062-1070 (2013) [C1]
DOI 10.1093/infdis/jit296
Citations Scopus - 11Web of Science - 11
Co-authors Peter Gibson, Vanessa Murphy, Peter Wark
2013 Vanders RL, Gibson PG, Wark PAB, Murphy VE, 'Alterations in inflammatory, antiviral and regulatory cytokine responses in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from pregnant women with asthma', RESPIROLOGY, 18 827-833 (2013) [C1]
DOI 10.1111/resp.12068
Citations Scopus - 12Web of Science - 11
Co-authors Peter Wark, Peter Gibson, Vanessa Murphy
2012 Vanders RL, Wark PA, Murphy VE, Gibson PG, 'Pregnant women have attenuated innate interferon responses to 2009 pandemic influenza a virus subtype H1N1', Journal of Infectious Diseases, 206 646-653 (2012) [C1]
Citations Scopus - 31Web of Science - 31
Co-authors Peter Gibson, Peter Wark, Vanessa Murphy
2012 Vanders RL, Gibson PG, Murphy VE, Wark PAB, 'Impaired type I and III interferon response to rhinovirus infection during pregnancy and asthma', Thorax, 67 209-214 (2012) [C1]
DOI 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2011-200708
Citations Scopus - 39Web of Science - 37
Co-authors Peter Gibson, Vanessa Murphy, Peter Wark
Show 5 more journal articles

Conference (4 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2011 Vanders RL, Gibson PG, Murphy VE, Wark PA, 'Reduced antiviral interferons during pregnancy explains susceptibility to influenza virus infection', Respirology, Perth, WA (2011) [E3]
Co-authors Vanessa Murphy, Peter Gibson, Peter Wark
2010 Vanders RL, Gibson PG, Murphy VE, Wark PA, 'Reduced anti-viral responses: Why pregnant women have increased susceptibility to respiratory virus infection', American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, New Orleans, LO (2010) [E3]
Co-authors Vanessa Murphy, Peter Gibson, Peter Wark
2010 Vanders RL, Gibson PG, Murphy VE, Wark PA, 'Reduced anti-viral responses: Why pregnant women have increased susceptiblty to respiratory virus infection', Respirology, Brisbane, QLD (2010) [E3]
Co-authors Vanessa Murphy, Peter Gibson, Peter Wark
2009 Wark PA, See HV, Simpson JL, Vanders RL, Hansbro PM, 'Peripheral blood monocytes (PBMCs) display innate antiviral response to rhinovirus (RV) infected bronchial epithelial cells', Journal of Immunology, Seattle, WASH. (2009) [E3]
Co-authors Philip Hansbro, Jodie Simpson, Peter Wark
Show 1 more conference
Edit

Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 6
Total funding $561,059

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20161 grants / $320,964

Investigation and therapeutic targeting of the immune mechanisms that predispose to and increase the severity of influenza in pregnancy$320,964

Funding body: NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)

Funding body NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)
Project Team Doctor Rebecca Vanders, Professor Phil Hansbro
Scheme Early Career Fellowships
Role Lead
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2021
GNo G1400642
Type Of Funding Aust Competitive - Commonwealth
Category 1CS
UON Y

20152 grants / $67,095

Nose only inhalation smoke exposure system for mice$54,698

Funding body: NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)

Funding body NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)
Project Team Professor Phil Hansbro, Laureate Professor Paul Foster, Associate Professor Jay Horvat, Doctor Janet Bristow, Doctor Malcolm Starkey, Doctor Rebecca Vanders, University Staff
Scheme Equipment Grant
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2015
GNo G1501551
Type Of Funding Other Public Sector - Commonwealth
Category 2OPC
UON Y

DVCRI Research Support for Early Career Fellow (ECF15)$12,397

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Rebecca Vanders
Scheme NHMRC ECF Support
Role Lead
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2019
GNo G1600545
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20133 grants / $173,000

Investigation of influenza induced alterations in antiviral immunity during pregnancy and identification of novel therapeutic strategies $160,000

Funding body: Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand

Funding body Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand
Project Team Doctor Rebecca Vanders
Scheme TSANZ/AstraZeneca - Respiratory Research Fellowship
Role Lead
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2014
GNo G1300829
Type Of Funding Grant - Aust Non Government
Category 3AFG
UON Y

Investigation of the mechanisms of reduced antiviral immunity and the development of novel therapeutic strategies for influenza in pregnancy$10,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Rebecca Vanders
Scheme Early Career Researcher Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2013
GNo G1300996
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

Investigation of Influenza Induced Alterations in Antiviral Immunity During Pregnancy and Identification of Novel Therapeutic Strategies$3,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Rebecca Vanders
Scheme New Staff Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2013
GNo G1300978
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y
Edit

Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed0
Current1

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2015 PhD Generational Effects of Smoking in Pregnancy PhD (Immunology & Microbiol), Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
Edit

Dr Rebecca Vanders

Position

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
Hansbro Group
School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy
Faculty of Health and Medicine

Contact Details

Email rebecca.vanders@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4042 0263
Link Google+

Office

Room Level 3 West
Building Hunter Medical Research Institute
Edit