Researchers have managed to develop an artificial placenta that extremely resembles the natural placenta.
Well, does it mean now we are going to grow more healthy babies in the lab? Maybe!
But in this case, the artificial placenta model is for research on how nutrients and other molecules move, from mother to child and vice versa
Scientifically, there is a lot to be learned in how the fetus gets nutrients. This might help us to understand biological processes that add value to the world of medicine and drug delivery to inaccessible regions.
The Puzzle in Exchange of Important Substances
Despite all the available knowledge and technology, science cannot explain how exactly important substances are exchanged between the mother and the child inside the womb.
It’s called the mystery of the permeability of the placenta. That is, what regulates the permeability of the placenta remains a puzzle.
All we know is that the placenta only allows what’s required by the unborn child to get through, and shuts off other molecules. Experts say it has been incredibly difficult to analyze or investigate how exactly this organ functions.
Turning to the Artificial Placenta
As such, researchers from TU Wien (Vienna) will be using their new artificial placenta model to investigate, to try and solve the puzzle. The artificial organ is made using specially created femtosecond that is laser-based produced in a 3D printing process.
In other words, it is now possible to make customized hydrogel membranes within microfluidic chips. After success, the membrane can then be populated with real placenta cells making the organ resemble the natural placenta.
With the model, the scientists believe it would be possible to investigate vital research issues—to be precise things like how glucose is passed from mother to child.
What’s to be Learned from Substance Exchange Across Membranes
According to Aleksandr Ovsianikov, a Professor at TU Wien Institute of Materials Sciences and Technology, the transport of substances across biological membranes play significant roles in many areas of medicine.
“This might help us understand the blood-brain barrier (a major obstacle when sending drug molecules into brain tumor cells,) ingestion of food in the intestines, and how the placenta transacts.
Some studies have revealed that certain diseases like diabetes in the mother could have an impact on the unborn child.
Other findings also suggest that high blood pressure in the parent can affect the way substances move to and fro between mother and fetus. Now, the hope is that this model will help to investigate the parameters involved in such cases.
Replicating Organ Structures
The TU Wien experts say they’ve trying been to replicate organ structures and doing it with a special chip with biological partition produced by a 3D printer. And the main goal is to investigate important aspects under controlled conditions.
“We call the model a chip, and it is divided into two areas –the first represents the mother and the other the fetus,” explained Denise Mandt first author of the project.
About the artificial placenta membrane, the researchers say they used a special 3D printing process that helped to create a partition between the two areas.
TU Wien has seen great success working on high-resolution 3D printing, which involves using materials that can be solidified using laser beams. The report also appears in the International Journal of Bioprinting.
With the tech, desired 3D structures can be produced point by point maintaining a resolution range within the micrometer. And in this case, it involves a hydrogel with reasonable biocompatibility.
Copying the natural placenta, Ovsianikov and team created a surface with tinny curved villi that allow placenta cells to colonize it, thereby creating a barrier that is similar to the natural organ.
Now, tests show that the artificial placenta to a greater extent behaves like the natural placenta, that is, it allows small molecules to pass through, and holds back larger particles. This is what qualifies it for the task, which is, investigating significant aspects of substance exchange from mother to child.