Kjersti Aagaard Is Being Honored with the 2023 SOT Translational Impact Award for Her Work on Exposures and How Genomic and Epigenomic Mechanisms Influence Fetal and Early Childhood Development

By Joshua Gray posted 02-09-2023 02:10 PM


This award recognizes a scientist whose recent (within the last 10 years) outstanding clinical, environmental health, or translational research has improved human and/or public health in an area of toxicological concern.

Kjersti Aagaard, MD, PhD, has received the 2023 SOT Translational Impact Award in recognition of her achievements in elucidating the underlying molecular mechanisms that link environmental and nutritional exposures during pregnancy and early development to later childhood and adult disease. Her work has significantly contributed to the understanding of the genomic and epigenomic mechanisms underlying the developmental origins of health and disease. As part of this award, Dr. Aagaard will deliver the Translational Impact Award Lecture on Monday, March 20, 9:15 am–10:15 am during the 2023 SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo.

Dr. Aagaard received her PhD in immunology from the Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education in 1996, her MD from the University of Minnesota in 2000, and her master’s in clinical investigation from the University of Utah in 2007. She completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology and a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine. From there, she joined the faculty at Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Aagaard currently holds the Henry and Emma Meyer Professor & Endowed Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine. She also serves as Vice Chair of Research for Obstetrics & Gynecology and is a Professor in the Departments of Molecular and Human Genetics, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. Additionally, she is an Associate Director in the Baylor College of Medicine MSTP MD PhD program.

Her clinical interests include emerging obstetrical infectious diseases, preterm birth, diabetes, and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy; maternal smoking and environmental exposures; and the detection and diagnosis of congenital and genetic anomalies. Her clinical and translational research interests parallel her clinical interests and focus on the role of the microbiome in pregnancy and early developmental programming and the effects of key exposures in pregnancy (such as nutrition, diabetes, maternal high-fat diet, smoking, and environmental chemical exposures) on fetal development and later-in-life disease. Her laboratory also is engaged in understanding the development and impact of perturbation on the microbiome and the effect of gene-environment interactions (including environmental toxicant exposures) on maternal-fetal outcomes and infant health. Her research has yielded groundbreaking advances in medicine and science, specifically as it relates to how our environment can have lasting impacts on the health of infants and children.

During her studies, she established several unique resources for the broader research community. Two examples of these are PeriBank, which is a fully integrated universal database and perinatal biospecimen repository developed and managed under her direction at Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine and supported by Texas Children’s Hospital, and the generation of several unique National Institutes of Health (NIH)–funded nonhuman primate models for environmental exposure studies during pregnancy—Dr. Aagaard and collaborators at the Oregon National Primate Research Center have spent two decades developing models that have established the current paradigms of maternal exposures rendering disrupted fetal programming.

Most recently, Dr. Aagaard’s research has focused on understanding environmental influences on preterm birth. As a Project Lead for the Baylor College of Medicine-Rice University P42 Superfund Research Program, Dr. Aagaard is exploring how proximity to superfund sites increases the probability of preterm birth. Her work is exploring links between maternal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and risk for preterm birth, as well as how these exposures incrementally augment major morbidities associated with preterm birth, such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (chronic lung disease) in premature infants.

She has more than 250 publications in journals such as Nature, Nature Medicine, Nature Communications, New England Journal of Medicine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Environmental Health Perspectives, and Science Translational Medicine and has presented more than 400 abstracts. She has received numerous award recognitions for her research: the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award in 2007, the Baylor College of Medicine Michael E. DeBakey Medal for Excellence in Research in 2015, the Nature Award for Mentoring in Science in 2018, and the Society for Reproductive Investigation’s President’s Achievement Award in 2020. She also was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 2019.

In addition to her research efforts, Dr. Aagaard maintains teaching and administrative responsibilities and has served as a mentor to more than 33 graduate students and 13 postdoctoral scholars. She also is a clinician actively practicing maternal-fetal medicine and dedicated in her service to vulnerable communities and lessening the disproportionate burden of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality suffered by these communities around the globe.