Press release empa

An Empa team has succeeded in developing a new three-dimensional cell model of the human placental barrier. The "model organ" can quickly and reliably deliver new information on the intake of substances, such as nano-particles, by the placental barrier and on any possible toxic effects for the unborn child. This knowledge can also be used in the future for the development of new approaches to therapy during pregnancy.


During its development, the foetus is extremely susceptible to toxic substances. Even the tiniest doses can cause serious damage. In order to protect the unborn child,one of the tasks of the placenta is to act as a barrier to "filter out" harmful substances, while at the same time providing the foetus with the nutrients it needs. In recent years, however, evidence has increasingly suggested that the placental barrier is not 100% effective and that nano-particles are actually able to penetrate it.

Nano-particles are being used in ever more varied areas of our lives. They are used, for example, in sun creams to protect against sunburn; they are used in condiments to stop them getting lumpy; they are used to make outdoor clothing waterproof and they are likely to be used in the future to transport medicines to their rightful destinations in the body . "At the moment, pregnant women are not being exposed to problematic amounts of nano-particles, but in the future that could well happen due to the ever increasing use of these tiny particles", suggests Tina Buerki of the "Department of Particles-Biology Interactions".


In order to ensure the safe development of nano-particles in the most diverse areas of application, their absorption mechanism at the placental barrier and their effect on the mother, foetus and placenta itself must be looked at more closely. It is the size, charge, chemical composition and shape of the nano-particles that could have an influence on whether they actually penetrate the placental barrier and, if so, in what way they are able to do so...




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