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'.