Dr Jo James

BTech (Hons, Biomedical Science), PhD (Obstetrics and Gynaecology)

Research | Current

My research focus is the placenta – one of the least understood human organs.  This multi-talented organ acts as a life support system for every one of us during our time in utero by delivering nutrients and oxygen that are essential for growth. Its ability to do this successfully at the end of pregnancy, when fetal demand is greatest, is dependent on successful placental development in early pregnancy. A poorly functioning placenta is thought to be a major component of the disease process in many pregnancy disorders including preeclampsia, fetal growth restriction (FGR) and recurrent miscarriage. Together, these disorders affect 1 in 10 pregnancies. However, despite our absolute reliance on the placenta, we do not understand the basic biological processes that underpin placental formation, or why these may fail. My research combines the use of in vitro, in vivo and in silico tools to understand how a healthy placenta forms in early pregnancy and why this goes wrong so often, so that we can improve our ability to predict/detect pregnancy disorders, and develop novel therapeutic strategies to improve outcomes for women and their babies.


Trophoblast Stem Cells

Trophoblasts are specialised epithelial cells only found in the placenta that are crucial for ensuring adequate transfer of nutrients from mum to baby.  We work with several human trophoblast stem cell models to understand how the human placenta is formed in healthy pregnancies, and how this may go wrong in fetal growth restriction, when babies are born dangerously small.


Mesenchymal Stem/Stromal Cells

The formation, expansion and branching of the placental blood vessels are essential to deliver nutrients from maternal blood to the growing baby in utero and inadequate development of this vasculature is associated with fetal growth restriction.  This component of my group's research aims to use mesencymal stem cells from early gestation and term placentae to understand how the placental blood vessels are formed at the beginning of pregnancy and the factors that may affect their development. We have also shown that mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from pregnancies affected by fetal growth restriction have impaired function, and are continuing to investigate the impact this may have on nutrient delivery and fetal growth.


Materno-Fetal Blood Flow

Healthy fetal growth depends on the ability of mum's uterus to supply the placenta with blood, and the ability of the placenta to absorb nutrients and oxygen from this blood. Inadequacies in the growth and adaptation of both of these circulations are a key problem in fetal growth restriction. Together with Dr Alys Clark (ABI) we are generating in silico models that relate the anatomical structural changes that occur within different parts of the uterine and placental vascular tree to their functional ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the baby.  Understanding which parts of the materno-fetal circulation matter most allows us to improve how we assess uterine and placental blood flow in pregnant women by ultrasound so that we can detect more at risk pregnancies earlier and  reduce the incidence of stillbirth.


Teaching | Current

MEDSCI313 - Reproductive Biology

MEDSCI730 - Reproductive Science

MEDSCI731 - Advanced Reproductive Biology (course director)

Postgraduate supervision

Current Doctoral Students

Ms Anna Boss

Ms Anandita Umapathy

Ms Cherry Sun

Ms Vijay Srinivasan (co-supervisor)

Mr Sayak Ray (co-supervisor)

Ms Monika Byrne (co-supervisor)


Completed Doctoral Students

Dr Teena Gamage (2019)

Dr Win Tun (2019, co-supervisor)

Dr Rojan Saghian (2018, co-supervisor)

Dr Mancy Tong (2017, co-supervisor)

Dr Jia Wei (2017, co-supervisor)


Completed Masters Students

Ms Anandita Umpathy (2017)

Ms Sonia Srinivasan (2015)


Completed Honours Students

Ms Cherry Sun (2018)

Ms Alexandra McCall (2018)

Ms Amy Gamage (2016)

Ms Megan Alexander (2013)

Ms Jenny Prossler (2012)

Areas of expertise

- Placental formation

- Uterine physiology

- Fetal growth restriction

- Placental stem cells

- Materno-fetal circulation

- Trophoblast biology

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Secretary of the Australian and New Zealand Placental Research Association

Member of the International Federation of Placenta Associations Executive Committee

Associate Editor for Human Reproduction Update

Editorial board member of Placenta


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)


Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 502 - Bldg 502
Level 2, Room 201
New Zealand

Web links