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Perinatal Pathology

NorthShore University Health System has a high risk obstetrical service and a level 3 infant special care unit at Evanston Hospital, and therefore is an ideal hospital system to study diseases of pregnancy and the newborn period. There are multidisciplinary groups of obstetricians, neonatologists, epidemiologists, and perinatal pathologists from NorthShore and Northwestern working on several research projects with NIH funding.

One of the major studies ongoing is the Stress Pregnancy and Health (SPAH) study ( The goal of the study is to better understand the social and lifestyle factors that affect birthing parents’ and infants’ health during pregnancy. This study has recruited almost 600 patients and collected many biospecimens including placental tissues to study the biological underpinnings of pregnancy outcomes.

Another federally funded study ongoing at NorthShore is an RCT of CenteringPregnancy on Birth Outcomes and Maternal Inflammation (PIINC) ( The purpose of the PIINC study is to identify differences in placental inflammatory lesions between women participating in group prenatal care versus standard prenatal care, and additionally, examine whether the frequency of placental inflammatory lesions differ by race and income. The investigators hypothesize that women participating in group prenatal care will have lower pro-inflammatory profiles compared to women in routine prenatal care.

Dr Linda Ernst is a Co-PI on a 5-year, federally funded study investigating the viral pathogenesis of chronic placental inflammation. In this study, she is collaborating with an investigator from WashU, Kristine Wylie, and they are using metagenomics shot gun sequencing approaches to test for viral pathogens in placental tissues, maternal blood and umbilical cord blood. Hopefully, the results of this study will shed light on infectious pathogens associated with chronic placental inflammation. 

Other investigations in NorthShore department of Pathology and Laboratory medicine, perinatal section include investigations into the causes of stillbirth, associations with maternal COVID-19 infection and placental pathology, associations between prenatal ultrasound features and significant placental pathology, long term effects on maternal and neonatal health associated with placental pathology, investigations into treatment for severe placental pathology such as maternal vascular malperfusion, and molecular methods to detect bacterial pathogens in fetal and placental tissue.