The National Institutes of Health said today that researchers have developed a novel “placenta-on-a-chip” to study the human placenta and its role in pregnancy.
The device is designed to imitate the structure and function of human placenta and model nutrient transfer on a micro-level, the NIH said in a news release.
“We believe that this technology may be used to address questions that are difficult to answer with current placenta model systems and help enable research on pregnancy and its complications,” study author Dr. Roberto Romero of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Perinatology Research Branch said in a news release.
The device consists of a semi-permeable membrane between a chamber filled with placenta-derived maternal cells and a chamber filled with umbilical cord-derived fetal cells, the NIH said. The device was tested and able to mirror the transfer of glucose as it occurs in the human body.
Researchers hope they will be able to understand how the placenta keeps harmful exposures out while allowing nutrients, oxygen and other necessities through, the NIH said. Placenta studies in humans can be challenging and dangerous for the fetus, and animal studies are limited by how well they can mimic human physiology.
“The chip may allow us to do experiments more efficiently and at a lower cost than animal studies. With further improvements, we hope this technology may lead to better understanding of normal placental processes and placental disorders,” Romero said in a news release.
The prototype study, published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, included contributions from the NICHD, the University of Pennsylvania, Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center, Seoul National University and Asan Medical Center in South Korea.