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Empa studies nano-medicines in pregnancy

The Federal Laboratory for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) has developed a three-dimensional cell model of the human placenta. The model organ could help examine the toxic impact of nano-particles on the unborn child.

Empa Biolab
Empa has developed a three-dimensional cell model of the human placenta. (picture credit: Empa)

The placental barrier acts as a filter for harmful substances while providing the foetus with the nutrients it needs. However, some nano-particles are able to penetrate the barrier, explained Empa’s St.Gallen-based Particles-Biology Interactions department in a statement. Nano-particles may be found, for example, in medicines.

To prevent unborn children being affected by these nano-particles, scientists are studying the absorption mechanism of the placental barrier. Traditional cell models used to examine the barrier do not allow researchers to determine whether “the cells in the petri dish will ultimately behave like those in the human body”, explained Empa.   

The researchers in St.Gallen have now developed a three-dimensional model in which the cells “exist in a tissue-like environment analogous to the placenta”. The model has already proved successful in application. The scientists now want to expand it, with the potential to discover how medicines can be given to pregnant women without harming the unborn child.  

"With these studies, we are hoping to lay the foundations for the safe but nevertheless effective use of nano-medicines during pregnancy," commented Empa researcher Tina Bürki in the statement.

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