Dr Jo James

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

Research | Current

Trophoblast Stem Cells

We currently understand very little about how the human placenta is formed, but the development of this organ in early pregnancy is crucial to lay the foundations for ongoing pregnancy success. Trophoblasts are specialised epithelial cells only found in the placenta.  This research is focussed on  isolating and characterisation of a novel population of putative trophoblast stem cells from the human placenta.  We aim to use these cells to both us understand how the human placenta is formed in healthy pregnancies, and how this may go wrong in pregnancy disorders.


Mesenchymal Stem 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 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 are also investigating whether mesenchymal stem cells are defective in placentae from pregnancies affected by fetal growth restriction, with the long term goal of employing these cells therapeutically to fix faulty placentae.


Uteroplacental Blood Flow

During early pregnancy the uterine spiral arteries are remodelled from tightly coiled vessels to wide open tubes to allow a constant and increased supply of nutrient and oxygen rich maternal blood to flow to the surface of the placenta as pregnancy progresses. This remodelling process involves significant haemodynamic changes within this circulation.  Together with Dr Alys Clark (ABI) we aim to generate in silico models that relate the structural changes that occur within these vessels to their functional ability to perfuse blood across the placental surface evenly.  This will allow us to understand how inadequate placental perfusion affects placental function and consequently pregnancy outcome.


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


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

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, and we cannot currently treat faulty placentae. The primary focus of my research is to use the stem cells from which the placenta is built to understand 1) how a healthy placenta forms in early pregnancy; 2) how inadequacies in stem cell function contribute to poorly developed placentas in pregnancy disorders; and 3) whether stem cells could be targeted therapeutically to fix poorly formed placentas. 

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

Editorial board member of Placenta


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Tun, W. M., Yap, C. H., Saw, S. N., James, J. L., & Clark, A. R. (2019). Differences in placental capillary shear stress in fetal growth restriction may affect endothelial cell function and vascular network formation. SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 910.1038/s41598-019-46151-6
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Alys Clark
  • Boss, A. L., Chamley, L. W., & James, J. L. (2018). Placental formation in early pregnancy: how is the centre of the placenta made?. Human reproduction update, 24 (6), 750-760. 10.1093/humupd/dmy030
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Larry Chamley
  • Gamage, T. K. J. B., Schierding, W., Tsai, P., Ludgate, J. L., Chamley, L. W., Weeks, R. J., ... James, J. L. (2018). Human trophoblasts are primarily distinguished from somatic cells by differences in the pattern rather than the degree of global CpG methylation. Biology open, 7 (8).10.1242/bio.034884
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/44887
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Peter Tsai, Teena Gamage, William Schierding, Larry Chamley
  • James, J. L., Saghian, R., Perwick, R., & Clark, A. R. (2018). Trophoblast plugs: impact on utero-placental haemodynamics and spiral artery remodelling. Human reproduction (Oxford, England)10.1093/humrep/dey225
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/44889
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Alys Clark
  • Clark, A. R., James, J. L., Stevenson, G. N., & Collins, S. L. (2018). Understanding abnormal uterine artery Doppler waveforms: A novel computational model to explore potential causes within the utero-placental vasculature. Placenta, 66, 74-81. 10.1016/j.placenta.2018.05.001
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Alys Clark
  • Gamage, T. K. J. B., Schierding, W., Hurley, D., Tsai, P., Ludgate, J. L., Bhoothpur, C., ... James, J. L. (2018). The role of DNA methylation in human trophoblast differentiation. Epigenetics, 13 (12), 1154-1173. 10.1080/15592294.2018.1549462
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: William Schierding, Teena Gamage, Peter Tsai, Larry Chamley
  • James, J., Chamley, L., & Clark, A. (2017). Feeding your baby in utero: How the uteroplacental circulation impacts pregnancy. Physiology, 32 (3), 234-245. 10.1152/physiol.00033.2016
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Alys Clark, Larry Chamley
  • Gamage, T. K. J. B., Chamley, L. W., & James, J. L. (2016). Stem cell insights into human trophoblast lineage differentiation. Human Reproduction Update, 23 (1), 77-103. 10.1093/humupd/dmw026
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/32043
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Larry Chamley, Teena Gamage


Contact details

Primary office location

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

Web links