Researchers Grow Healthy Human Placental Cells For Drug Research

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Researchers at Ohio State University have become the first to grow healthy human placental cells in the laboratory.

This represents a critical first step toward finding a way to test the safety of drugs that a woman can take during pregnancy without harming her fetus.

The cells provide scientists with the means to observe what happens to drugs that pass through a healthy placenta, not excised placental tumors or aborted placental tissue which are normally used in the laboratory.

Douglas Kniss, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State, and Teng Ma, a graduate student in chemical engineering, grew the placental cells artificially using a new technique developed in cooperation with Shang-Tian Yang, professor of chemical engineering.

“The placenta is very important for the health of the fetus, but little has been done to study the placenta in a dynamic
way -- a way close to conditions that actually exist inside the body,” said Ma.

The researchers grew the cells in a bioreactor, a container stuffed with a matrix of polyester fibers. Unlike the alternative -- a flat surface such as a petri dish -- the bioreactor allows cells to grow and reproduce as they do in the body, clinging to the polyester fibers as they normally would to strands of human proteins. Liquid nutrients course steadily through the bioreactor, mimicking blood flow.

As a result, the placental cells not only survive in the bioreactor, they function as they do in the womb. Ma presented this research last month at the 216th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

“Our objective is to use the cells in the bioreactor as an artificial placenta to test drugs,” said Ma. “Then we can avoid testing on humans or animals, both of which involve high co

Contact: Douglas Kniss
Ohio State University

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