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Placenta Barrier-on-a-Chip to Help Understand Triggers of Premature Birth

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More than one in 10 babies worldwide are born prematurely, according to the World Health Organization. Scientists have developed an organ-on-a-chip that could help explain why, as published in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

The device, which replicates the functions of a key membrane in the placenta, could lead to a better understanding of how bacterial infections can promote preterm delivery.

Bacterial infections, a common trigger of premature births, can cause inflammation of the placenta or the placental barrier, a membrane that regulates the flow of nutrients and other substances between mother and child.

As a result, the amniotic sac can rupture, producing early-onset labor. Studying this problem has proven tricky, in part because it's not feasible to run clinical trials including pregnant women, and human placentas donated after birth can only survive a few hours.

However, researchers recently created a placenta-on-a chip - a promising new microfluidic device that allows placental cells to grow and function as if they were still in the body.

Delving deeper, Jianhua Qin and colleagues sought to create a similar device that would specifically replicate the functions of placental barrier and how it responds to bacterial infection.

The researchers implanted human trophoblasts (representing the mother's cells) and endothelial cells (representing the fetus) from a human umbilical cord vein onto opposite sides of a three-layer microfluidic device.

A porous membrane between the two cell layers allowed the tissues to form a placental barrier between them. Once the team were satisfied that the tissue was behaving as it was in the body, they added E. coli bacteria to the maternal layer.

The bacteria proliferated rapidly, breached the placental barrier, and subsequently triggered inflammation and cell death in both of the adjoining maternal and fetal layers.

The researchers concluded that placental barriers-on-a-chip could help explain inflammatory responses in human placenta and possibly lead to better ways to treat or prevent preterm birth caused by infections.

This article has been republished from materials provided by the American Chemical Society. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

Qin, J., Zhu, Y., Yin, F., Wang, H., Wang, L., & Yuan, J. (2018). Placental barrier-on-a-chip: Modeling placental inflammatory responses to bacterial infection. ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering. doi:10.1021/acsbiomaterials.8b00653