Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a microfluidic chip that mimics the placental barrier. Their device paves the way for drug screening to determine which drugs can cross the placental barrier, allowing researchers to assess drug safety for pregnant women.
Pharmacological treatment for pregnant women can be risky, as some drugs can cross the placental barrier and could potentially affect the fetus. Researchers don’t yet fully understand how the placenta permits some molecules to pass through it, and blocks the passage of others.
Because of this risk to the fetus, pregnant women are not included in clinical trials. Researchers can use placentas donated after birth to test which drugs will cross the placental barrier, but they are difficult to use for drug screens and are only viable for a few hours. Another option is animal tests, but these do not accurately mimic human physiology and can provide misleading results. The most famous example of this is the tragic case of thalidomide, a drug for morning sickness, which crossed the placental barrier in humans and caused birth defects and deaths.
To address the shortcomings of pre-existing approaches, this research team has developed a placenta-on-a-chip, using microfluidic channels in silicone housing. The device contains two channels that are separated using a porous membrane. The team seeded the channels using human trophoblast cells on one side of the membrane and endothelial cells on the other, to mimic the placental barrier.
The researchers were then able to add drug molecules to blood-like fluid flowing through the “maternal” side of the device, and analyze if the molecules could pass through the artificial placental barrier. By comparing their results using the chip with previous results from placentas donated after birth, the team confirmed that their chip appears to mimic what happens in the human placenta. However, they will need to conduct further validation work before the chip can be used routinely for drug screens.
“We’re getting close,” said Dan Huh, a researcher involved in the study. “This study has given us confidence that the placenta-on-a-chip has tremendous potential as a screening platform to assess and predict drug transport in the human placenta.”
Study in Advanced Healthcare Materials: Placental Drug Transport-on-a-Chip: A Microengineered In Vitro Model of Transporter-Mediated Drug Efflux in the Human Placental Barrier…
Via: Penn Engineering…