Satterfield awarded $1.5 million NIH, USDA grant to study placental adaptation to maternal malnutrition

Writer: Courtney Coufal,

COLLEGE STATION – Dr. Carey Satterfield, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist and associate professor in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, has been awarded a $1.5 million grant to study placental adaptation to maternal malnutrition.

The study will develop a better understanding of how the placenta responds to nutritional stress.

The award was granted by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


Dr. Carey Satterfield, Texas A&M AgriLife researcher and associate professor in the Department of Animal Science.

The funds will be distributed over five years. Satterfield will lead a team of researchers including his colleagues in the Department of Animal Science: Dr. Fuller Bazer, distinguished professor and O.D. Butler Chair, Dr. Guoyao Wu, distinguished professor, and Dr. Kathrin Dunlap, assistant professor; and Dr. Shannon Washburn, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology in the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“Research conducted by the physiology of reproduction faculty in the Department of Animal Science has led to seminal scientific discoveries in the field. Dr. Satterfield’s success in securing this grant is a testament to the strength of this program,” said Dr. Russell Cross, professor and head of animal science. “We congratulate Dr. Satterfield on receiving this highly prestigious grant – the largest NIH grant received by a faculty in animal science – and look forward to the contributions he and his team will make for the betterment of animal and human lives.”

Malnutrition in livestock and humans is a global concern and is of increasing importance during pregnancy. The World Health Organization estimates that 792 million people are currently undernourished. Current estimates indicate that 7-15 percent of pregnancies result in intrauterine growth restriction.

Satterfield said while maternal under-nutrition is often overlooked as a potential cause in industrialized nations, it remains a significant problem in developing countries.

Similarly, grazing livestock are frequently exposed to varying nutrient availability. For this reason, identification of animals better suited to changing environments is imperative for sustaining the food animal industry.  Insufficient nutrient availability results in intrauterine growth restriction, and more importantly, low birth weight is strongly associated with neonatal death losses, he said.

“Having a healthy start in life begins during pregnancy. Optimal fetal growth relies on sufficient nutrient delivery across the placenta. This study takes a proactive approach to enhancing health and well-being of humans and livestock alike by trying to better understand how the placenta responds to nutritional stress,” Satterfield said. “This knowledge is key for the development of early markers of at-risk pregnancies as well as for the development of intervention strategies to ensure the birth of a viable, healthy newborn.”

The study aims to capitalize on natural population variance using the sheep which serve as both an agriculturally important food animal as well as an accepted biomedical model for studies related to humans, he said. Doing so will lead to a better understanding of the hormonal, cellular and molecular mechanisms by which the placenta can adapt to maternal malnutrition for support of optimal fetal growth, thereby reducing mortality. To accomplish this, researchers plan to develop a unique animal model using sheep to examine placental growth, function, and adaptation.

“The sheep has long served as a useful biomedical model for studying aspects of fetal growth,” Satterfield said. “Like humans, the sheep has a relatively long gestation length which lends itself to studying the effects of long-term nutritional manipulations during different periods of gestation on fetal growth.  The relative size ratio of fetus to mother is also very similar between the sheep and human.”

The research also will enhance genetic selection criterion for more informed retention of breeding stock suited for harsh conditions. It will also help with the identification of novel nutritional and genetic targets for intervention strategies in humans and livestock to alleviate fetal growth restriction and its associated lifelong costs, Satterfield said.

“Completion of this project is expected to fill a critical gap in our existing knowledge by providing novel insights into placental growth and function as they relate to the spectrum of observed rates of fetal growth,” he said.


For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at or (979) 845-1542.

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