Plastic Nanoparticles Can Pass Through Pregnant Rats To Their Fetuses, New Research Reveals

Microplastic under a microscope.
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Human Interest

We have known about the dangers of plastic for some time now. Our awareness began with plastic pollution cluttering up oceans and becoming health hazards for the many forms of life that make their home there. Then, studies showed how tiny microparticles and nanoplastics are making their way into our bodies, sparking concern for our own health.

That idea is gaining more attention as researchers have discovered that nanoparticles can cross through the placenta of a pregnant rat to her unborn fetus, The Guardian reported.  
 

The Particles Traveled Quickly

Scientists exposed pregnant rats to 60 percent of the number of nanoparticles that pregnant women might be exposed to on an average day around the third week of their pregnancy.

The results of the experiments showed that when the mother inhaled the particles, they not only traveled through her body, but made it through the placenta and into several organs of her unborn rat. 

The study also revealed that the particles reached the fetus within an astonishing 90 minutes of when she was exposed to them.
 

The Particles Were Found In Several Organs And Tissues

Nanoparticles under a microscope.
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Phoebe Stapleton, a professor at Rutgers University who led the research, said the team found the nanoparticles practically everywhere they looked.

Fluorescent imaging found nanopolystyrene (microscopic pieces of polystyrene) in the heart, lungs, and spleen of the mother.

Furthermore, the tiny particles were also discovered in the brain, heart, lungs, kidney, and liver in the fetus.

The research, published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology, also showed that on the day before the mothers were to give birth, the fetuses were about 7 percent smaller than normal size.
 

The Discovery Was ‘Shocking’

Dunzhu Li, a researcher at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, said the study was important because it proved that the particles can transfer from mother to fetus in mammals. While Li was not part of the team, he expressed concern over the findings, suggesting that perhaps the transfer might begin as early as conception, according to The Guardian.

“The particles were found almost everywhere in the fetus and can also pass through the blood-brain barrier – it is very shocking,” he said.
 

More Research Is Needed

More research is needed on how these particles impact human health as well as the development of fetal tissue.  

Stapleton said the study answered some questions while asking others. She pointed out that the nanoparticles used in the research were “a million times smaller” than the microplastics found in human placentas last year, which makes research more challenging.

“But we know nanoparticles have greater toxicity than the microparticles of the same chemical, as smaller particles get deeper into the lungs,” she said.