Researchers have developed iPlacenta, a placenta-on-a-chip device that holds the potential to revolutionize the study of life-threatening pregnancy conditions, including preeclampsia resulting from elevated blood pressure.
Stem Cell-Based Miniature Placenta Models to Understand Placental Health
The miniature models have been developed from stem cells, perfectly replicating the workings of placenta, which allows nutrients to pass from the mother to the fetus while allowing waste to return to the mother’s bloodstream; and also offers protection to the unborn baby against bacteria. However, a failure by the placenta to function correctly can jeopardize the health and life of both the fetus and its mother.
The team utilized stem cells obtained from the skin to grow human placentas in their organ-on-a-chip platform OrganoPlate. Each plate can accommodate about 40 micro placentas, which can be utilized for testing without endangering the health of the mother or fetus or using animal research because they mirror the functions of the full-size organ.
Dr. Colin Murdoch, who led the project at Dundee, said that the breakthrough technology could revolutionize research into conditions such as pre-eclampsia. “Just a tiny fraction of the most common drugs used by women in pregnancy have excellent safety data behind them. “This allows drug companies to look at the organ in a more physiological format and could have a potentially transformative impact on medical care for pregnant women,” he said.
iPlacenta: A Collaborative Breakthrough in Organ-on-a-Chip Technology
Dr. Murdoch and his team at Dundee started to work on iPlacenta in 2019 with Dutch 3D tissue model experts MIMETAS and their findings are detailed in a paper published in the journal Cell Press. “Organ-on-a-chip technology is a giant leap forward in understanding the diseases of the placenta,” said Gwanaelle Rabussier, scientist at MIMETAS. The project opens “tremendous opportunities for unraveling placental mysteries associated with placental barrier drug transfer and pathologies such as pre-eclampsia.
This contribution to enhancing women’s health is a tremendous source of pride for us”, he added. “We still know relatively little about pre-eclampsia, despite its potential to affect every pregnancy. At present, cell lines from cancer are used to examine diseases of the placenta but this is not entirely appropriate. Obtaining placentas at the early stage that we need to study them is incredibly hard, and that is where iPlacenta can address that need,” Dr. Murdoch said.
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