3D-Printed Placenta-on-a-Chip Mimics Structure of Placental Membrane

Researchers at TU Wien in Vienna have developed a placenta-on-a-chip microfluidic device which uses a femtosecond laser-based 3D-printing method to create a customized hydrogel membrane. The printed membrane is populated with placental cells and mimics the microstructure of the placental barrier. This allows researchers to study how substances, including drugs and nutrients such as glucose, travel across the placental barrier.

“The transport of substances through biological membranes plays an important role in various areas of medicine,” said Aleksandr Ovsianikov, a researcher involved in the study. “These include the blood-brain barrier, ingestion of food in the stomach and intestine, and also the placenta.”

At present, it is difficult to study how substances travel across the placental barrier. Drug treatments during pregnancy can be risky, as there is a chance that the drug could cross the barrier and affect the fetus. Diseases affecting the mother may also affect the fetus. For instance, previous research has shown that diabetes or high blood pressure in the mother can affect the unborn child. However, it is difficult to know how exactly this happens, or how to prevent it, given that we don’t fully understand how the placental membrane functions.

Researchers are working to develop new devices to help study the placental barrier. One of the most promising approaches involves organ-on-a-chip devices, which can be seeded with human placental cells to mimic the placental membrane. This group of researchers in Austria have developed a new approach to recreating the placental membrane in a microfluidic device.

“Our chip consists of two areas – one represents the fetus, the other the mother,” said Denise Mandt, another researcher involved in the study. “We use a special 3D printing process to produce a partition between them – the artificial placenta membrane.”

The researchers used the high-resolution 3D printing method to recreate microstructures in the placental membrane. The technique involves using lasers to solidify printed materials, allowing 3D structures to be created in the micrometer range. “In our case this involves a hydrogel with good biocompatibility,” said Ovsianikov. “Based on the model of the natural placenta, we produce a surface with small, curved villi. The placenta cells can then colonize it, creating a barrier very similar to the natural placenta.”

The device allows the researchers to study disease progression and treatment, and monitor a variety of parameters including temperature and pressure, and how substances such as glucose or drugs travel across the placental membrane. So far, the printed membrane appears to behave similarly to a natural placental membrane, but further tests are required to validate this.

Study in International Journal of Bioprinting: Fabrication of placental barrier structures within a microfluidic device utilizing two-photon polymerization…

Via: TU Wien…

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