Human placenta, responsible for transmitting nutrients between mother and fetus, has been difficult to study for researchers and has thus remained largely enigmatic. Now, that is all about to change. An interdisciplinary group of scientists from the United States and South Korea has developed and tested a sort of chip placenta, a device that uses the body’s cells to remake a placenta and recreate its function in a pregnant woman. They published their study in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine.
New device has advantages to existing placental study methods.
Before the placenta chip was developed, scientists only had two methods for studying placentas- either animal testing, or studying lab-curated human cells. The new development should allow for placenta research to be done more efficiently and at a lower cost from now on. Other “chip” organs have been used to study experimental drug effects on the human body in the past.
How does the placenta chip work?
The new device is comprised of two very small chambers split by a semi-permeable membrane. One chamber would be filled with maternal cells from a delivered placenta, the other with fetal cells taken from an umbilical cord. The placenta chip would then be able to imitate the flow of nutrients from mother to baby on a microscopic level. The researchers behind the new device tested it by evaluating glucose transfer from the maternal cell chamber to the fetal cell chamber, and found that the chip acts in the same way as a real human placenta.
Why is placental research important?
The placenta chip is a revolutionary development in an important but poorly understood field. Placentas not only help transfer nutrients between mother and fetus, but also acts to filter out medications, bacteria, and viruses. Scientists have thus been trying to figure out how exactly the placenta manages all of these functions. They also expect findings from the chip to shed some light on how the placenta is ejected from the body, how it responds to trauma, and effects on the fetus as a result of this. The research could be crucial to better understanding pregnancy in women.