Auckland Bioengineering Institute

Development and Reproductive Health

Our group aims to improve health in pregnancy and early childhood by providing a better understanding of physiology in the critical developmental period. We use data-driven computational models to provide a new understanding of the important contributors to healthy development and to interpret clinical data obtained in early-life.


Toward a virtual placenta


We know that abnormal placental structure is associated with serious complications of pregnancy, but we don't know whether this abnormal structure is a cause or consequence of the pregnancy complication in many cases. The developing placenta is very inaccessible to measurement – we can’t make invasive measurements or use ionising radiation to look at how the placenta is developing.

Therefore, we are piecing together evidence that describes normal and abnormal placental structure and function through pregnancy to develop a ‘virtual placenta’. We hope to use this virtual placenta to better understand what can go wrong in pregnancy and to help develop tools to identify 'at risk' pregnancies more accurately.  

Model guided image analysis


It is difficult to monitor health in pregnancy and early childhood using medical imaging. The quality of images that can be acquired is restricted by the need to minimise ionising radiation and issues of fetal motion or lack of cooperation in small children.

Our group is working to improve the analysis of low-resolution imaging in early development by incorporating known information from infrequent high resolution imaging into analysis of low resolution images that can be obtained on a regular basis, and by interpreting imaging using computational models.

These new analysis techniques will enable earlier detection of abnormalities and ultimately allow treatment decisions to be made based on functional predictions.

Nutrient transport through development


Our group has a particular interest in how nutrient transport pathways evolve in development. For example,

  • how does the changing structure of the ovarian follicles influence the availability of oxygen to the egg? or,
  • how does the maternal blood circulation influence the ability of the placenta to feed the developing fetus?

We are developing computational models of nutrient transport and exchange that cross spatial scales from cellular mechanisms to whole organ function to help physiologists understand how observations made at different scales relate.