Why the Placenta Matters

shutterstock_235352389.jpg

by: Dr. Sascha Drewlo

The placenta, also sometimes referred to as afterbirth, is the organ that builds the interface between the mother and the developing fetus. The placenta is connected to the fetus via the umbilical cord and is responsible for many key functions. It acts as a lung by exchanging gas between the maternal and fetal blood flow. It takes up nutrient and releases waste into the mothers blood circulation. It produces many hormones, which enable the molecular communication between the fetus and the mother. All this amazing function is to ensure proper fetal growth and successful pregnancy outcome. 

Impaired placenta function can have a direct impact on fetal development. Both the hormones and the nutrient supply provided by the placenta provides information the fetus needs to adjust its growth. Changes in placental function can be caused by a variety of environmental factors, as well as, physical defects in the placenta itself. Abnormal placentation has been directly linked to diseases, such as, preterm birth, preeclampsia (a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy), and intra uterine growth restriction (IUGR), often called small for gestational age (SGA). So, the placenta play a critical role in fetal development.

Interestingly, both placenta defect testing and intervention strategies are widely inefficient. Novel ideas are needed to help identify pregnancies at risk for for impaired placenta function to ultimately provide better personalized care. Our laboratories will contribute to this important quest to someday offer 'every baby a healthy start'.

Picture of a healthy term placenta with view from the fetal side (the opposite side is connected in utero to the mother and the maternal blood flow). The placenta is round and has various blood vessels branching into the placental tissue towards the gas exchanging area at the implantation side. The placental tissue increases significantly comparable to a tree with many branches and leaves. The water transporting vessels in the tree are comparable to the blood vessels in the placenta connected to the fetus. The air surrounding the tree is similar to the maternal blood carrying gas and nutrients. The placenta is therefore are versatile exchange organ ensuring success of pregnancy. 

Picture of a healthy term placenta with view from the fetal side (the opposite side is connected in utero to the mother and the maternal blood flow). The placenta is round and has various blood vessels branching into the placental tissue towards the gas exchanging area at the implantation side. The placental tissue increases significantly comparable to a tree with many branches and leaves. The water transporting vessels in the tree are comparable to the blood vessels in the placenta connected to the fetus. The air surrounding the tree is similar to the maternal blood carrying gas and nutrients. The placenta is therefore are versatile exchange organ ensuring success of pregnancy.