Scientists have grown "mini-placenta" in a breakthrough that can transform research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and other pregnancy disorders.
Tiny organelles mimic the placenta in the early stages of the first trimester and will be used to understand how tissue develops during a healthy pregnancy, and what happens when it fails.
Mini-placentas are so much like the real thing that they can trick out over-the-counter pregnancy tests. “If we put a sterile pill on Wednesday from organoids, it reads“ frugality, ”said Ashley Moffett, a senior team researcher and professor of reproductive immunology at Cambridge University.
In a healthy pregnancy, the placenta grows and attaches to the wall of the uterus, where it provides oxygen and nutrients for the baby, removing it from the blood of the fetus. It also secretes hormones into the mother.
Pregnancy may fail when the embryo is improperly implanted in the uterus and the placenta does not attach as it should. Understanding what goes wrong in these cases is difficult to investigate, because scientists do not have a placenta to study, and the placenta of other animals are too different to make meaningful comparisons.
“Now we can begin experiments on the development of the placenta in the uterine environment,” said Moffett.
The Cambridge team grew organelles in their laboratory using cells from similar traps of structures called villi that are found in the placental tissue. The cells organized themselves into multicellular structures capable of secreting proteins and hormones that affect the metabolism of the mother during pregnancy.
Organoids are between tenth and millimeter in size. They can be frozen and stored, and then thawed when necessary.
Researchers want to use organoids to study some of the most common pregnancy disorders, such as preeclampsia, stillbirth and growth restriction. But lab mini-placenta will also help scientists understand how some infections affect unborn children.
Outbreaks of Ziki virus have been associated with abnormal brain development in infants born to women with infection, but it is unclear how the virus crosses the placenta when it does not have the same dengue virus.
Other work will examine the hormones and proteins secreted by organoids as they grow, in order to identify substances that can provide early warning that the placenta is not working properly. “These women could be watched more closely,” said Moffett. Details of the study are published in Nature.
Margherita Turco, lead author of the study, said: “The placenta is absolutely necessary to support the baby when it grows up inside the mother. When it does not work properly, it can lead to serious problems, from preeclampsia to miscarriage, with immediate and lifelong consequences for both the mother and the child. ”
Mini-placenta can also be used to test the safety of new drugs taken during early pregnancy, and shed light on how chromosomal abnormalities can disrupt the normal development of a child. The researchers said that the placenta could provide stem cell therapy for an unsuccessful pregnancy.