Lab-grown placentas ‘will transform pregnancy research’

Cambridge team develops organoids or mini placentas to advance knowledge of stillbirth and pre-eclampsia

Natural human placenta. Lab-produced organoids can act like true placentas in the first trimester, say researchers. Photograph: Francisco Kjolseth/AP

(Ian Sample/ The Guardian) — Scientists have grown “mini placentas” in a breakthrough that could transform research into the underlying causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and other pregnancy disorders.

The tiny organoids mimic the placenta in the early stages of the first trimester and will be used to understand how the tissue develops in healthy pregnancies, and what goes wrong when it fails.

The mini placentas are so much like the real thing they can fool over-the-counter pregnancy tests. “If we put a pregnancy stick into the medium from the organoids it reads‘pregnant’,” said Ashley Moffett, a senior researcher on the team and professor of reproductive immunology at Cambridge University.

In a healthy pregnancy the placenta grows and attaches to the wall of the womb where it provides oxygen and nutrients for the baby, while removing waste from the foetus blood. It also secretes hormones into the mother. (…)

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