Scientists have developed a "mini placenta" in a breakthrough that could transform research into the underlying causes of abortion, childbirth and other pregnancy disorders.
Small organoids mimic the placenta in the early stages of the first trimester and will be used to understand how the tissue develops in healthy pregnancies and what happens when it fails.
Mini placentas are just like the real thing that can fool pregnancy tests without prescription. "If we place a pregnant wand on the body, we read it" terrible, "says Ashley Moffett, senior team scientist and professor of reproductive immunology at Cambridge University.
In healthy pregnancies, the placenta grows and attaches itself to the wall of the womb, where it provides oxygen and nutrients for the child, removing fetal blood waste. It also eliminates hormones in the mother.
If the embryo is not implanted properly into the uterus and the placenta does not join as it should, a pregnancy may fail. Understanding what is wrong in these cases was difficult to investigate because scientists do not have placentas to study, and the placentas of other animals are too different to make meaningful comparisons.
"We can now experiment with the development of the placenta in the uterine environment," Moffett said.
The Cambridge team has multiplied organoids in its laboratory using cell-like fibers found in placental tissue. Cells were organized into multicellular structures capable of secreting proteins and hormones that affect maternal metabolism during pregnancy.
Organoids range from a tenth of a millimeter to half a millimeter. They can be frozen and stored and if necessary melted.
Scientists want to use organoids to study some of the most common pregnancy disorders, such as preeclampsia, fatal labor and growth reduction. Laboratories that grow mini-placentas also help scientists understand how certain infections affect unborn babies.
Zika's outbreak was associated with abnormal brain development in children born to women with infection, but it is unclear how the virus crosses the placenta when a very similar dengue virus is not.
Further work will examine the hormones and proteins secreted by organoids during their growth to identify substances that could warn in time that the placenta is not working properly. "These women could be better watched," Moffett said. Research details are published in nature.
Margherita Turco, the lead author of the research, said: "The placenta is absolutely necessary to support the baby as it grows inside the mother, and if it does not work properly, it can cause serious problems, from pre-eclampsia to abortion, with immediate and lifelong consequences for the mother even a child. "
Miniplacentages could also be used to control the safety of new drugs used during early pregnancy and to illustrate how chromosomal abnormalities can interfere with the normal development of the baby. Other placentas could provide stem cell therapy due to pregnancy failure, the researchers said.