The first placenta-on-a-chip can fully model the transport of nutrients between mother and fetus.
The flash-drive-sized device contains two layers of human cells that model the interface. Microfluidic channels on either side of those layers allow researchers to study how molecules are transported through, or are blocked by, that interface.
Like other organs-on-chips—such as ones developed to simulate lungs, intestines, and eyes—the placenta-on-a-chip provides a unique capability to mimic and study the function of that human organ in ways that have not been possible using traditional tools.
Research on the team’s placenta-on-a-chip is part of a US effort sponsored by the March of Dimes to identify causes of preterm birth and ways to prevent it. Prematurely born babies may experience lifelong, debilitating consequences, but the underlying mechanisms of this condition are not well understood due in part to the difficulties of experimenting with intact, living human placentas.