Scientists Develop Organ-On-A-Chip Device To Better Understand Premature Births

Scientists have developed a device that could lead to a better understanding of why more than one in 10 babies worldwide are born prematurely, reports Science Daily. The device also could have a more far-reaching impact in that it can possibly lead to preterm labor treatment and prevention options.

Scientists reported that they have developed an organ-on-a-chip device that replicates the functions of a key membrane in the placenta, which could help explain how bacterial infections promote preterm delivery. The device also could be used to create new treatments. The report was published in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

Bacterial infections cause inflammation of the placenta or the placental barrier, which regulates the flow of nutrients between a mother and her child. This can lead to rupturing of the amniotic sac, resulting in early-onset labor.

Science Daily reports that figuring out how to study this particular problem was difficult for researchers. Human placentas donated by mothers after birth can only survive a few hours and running clinical trials on pregnant women wouldn’t have been feasible. The new placenta-on-a-chip is described as a “promising new microfluidic device designed to allow the growth and function of placental cells as if they were still in the body.”

Lead researcher Jianhua Qin and colleagues also sought to create a device with the specific function of replicating placental barrier functions and the placental barber’s response to bacterial infections.

Researchers implanted trophoblasts to represent the mother’s cells and endothelial cells to represent the fetus from a human umbilical cord vein onto either side of a three-layer microfluidic device. After determining that the porous membrane between the two layers had formed a placental barrier, scientists added E. coli to the maternal cells. According to the report, the E. coli bacteria “proliferated rapidly” before breaching the placental barrier, triggering both cell death and inflammation in not only the maternal layer but in the fetal layer as well.

According to the study itself, researchers concluded that placental barriers-on-a-chip could lead to better treatments and prevention options for preterm labor resulting from bacterial infections.

“These complex responses are of potential significance to placental dysfunctions, even abnormal fetal development and preterm birth. Collectively, [the] placental barrier-on-a-chip microdevice presents a simple platform to explore the complicated inflammatory responses in human placenta, and might help our understanding of the mechanisms underlying reproductive diseases.”