Rate of placenta damage staggering, says Mount Sinai Hospital obstetrician

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In mid-June Dr. John Kingdom will spend some time walking the rolling green-grass hills of Scotland, reminiscing with several old residency chums from his days studying Paediatrics and Obstetrics-Gynecology in Glasgow. But those who know him might say his walk in the hills is really high-altitude training for his busy professional life.

If you’re quick, you might catch the Mount Sinai Hospital staff obstetrician hustling from hospital floor to hospital floor, visiting with expectant mothers in the high risk pregnancy ambulatory clinic one minute, and then shooting down a floor to find the latest pathology results of his research.

Dr. Kingdom recently became the Rose Torno Chair in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, thanks to a generous $2-million gift from the Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary. The Chair was funded by the Auxiliary’s $6-million Breathe Life Into Birth campaign, now complete.

He will use this newly endowed chair, named after the founder of the Auxiliary 50 years ago, to focus on his “passion” – research and clinical care surrounding the “silent issue” of placenta damage.

“I knew really early on that I wanted to specialize in obstetrics and particularly in placenta research,” he explains from a cramped office cluttered in research tombs, journal papers needing editing, and stapled stacks of research data. “More than half of women, in their reproductive life, will suffer some complication due to placenta damage and the issue is not being addressed fully.”

That’s a staggering rate, considering that placenta damage is the reason for most fetal disease, caused by irregular blood flow, and leading to dangerously high blood pressures for the expecting mother which can complicate birth and cause premature delivery. Still, the amount of basic research being conducted into placenta damage doesn’t come close to many adult diseases, he said.

Born in England, Dr. Kingdom obtained his medical degree at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He went on to his residency in Scotland and then spent three years at University College Hospital in London before joining Mount Sinai in 1998 and establishing a placenta clinic.

“The lure of Mount Sinai Hospital was irresistible because it gave me a chance to practice high-risk obstetrics alongside my research,” said Dr. Kingdom. Today, the placenta clinic brings together a critical mass of pathologists, obstetric specialists, trainees and researchers from the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute.

Still, discovering the molecular triggers that can lead to placenta damage is only part of the battle and early screening detection, through methods such as blood tests, is key. While he plans to conduct a randomized control study to better understand the root causes of placenta damage, Dr. Kingdom also hopes to lead the creation of a province-wide screening program to enhance early detection and prevention.

Dr. Alan Bocking, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Mount Sinai Hospital, said he is “absolutely thrilled” that Dr. Kingdom has been appointed to the Rose Torno Chair. “Dr. Kingdom is a leader not only in his area of research but also in providing exemplary patient care and education.”