National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers and their colleagues have developed a “placenta-on-a-chip” to study the inner workings of the human placenta and its role in pregnancy. The device was designed to imitate, on a micro-level, the structure and function of the placenta and model the transfer of nutrients from mother to fetus. This prototype is one of the latest in a series of organ-on-a-chip technologies developed to accelerate biomedical advances. The study, published online on June 15, 2015 in an open-access article in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the University of Pennsylvania, Wayne State University/Detroit Medical Center, Seoul National University, and Asan Medical Center in the Republic of South Korea. The article is titled “Placenta-on-a-Chip: A Novel Platform to Study the Biology of the Human Placenta.” “We believe that this system may be used to address questions which are difficult to answer with the current placenta model systems and serve to enable research in pregnancy and its complications,” said Roberto Romero, M.D., Chief of the Perinatology Research Branch of the Division of Intramural Research of NICHD. The placenta is a temporary organ that develops in pregnancy and is the major interface between mother and fetus. Among its many functions is to serve as a “crossing guard” for substances traveling between mother and fetus. The placenta helps nutrients and oxygen move to the fetus and helps waste products move away. At the same time, the placenta tries to stop harmful environmental exposures, like bacteria, viruses, and certain medications, from reaching the fetus.
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