3D Printed Model of Placenta Changing Future of Pregnancy Studies

A group of researchers from the Medical University of Vienna have recently developed the first 3D printed model of a human placenta that can be used in studies on pregnancy complications. This miniature model, called an organoid, was made through a combination of 3D printing and stem cell development. This organoid was the product of a collaborative project between research teams of Martin Knöfler from MUV’s Department of Obstetrics and Paulina Latos from MUV’s Center for Anatomy and Cell Biology.

The organoid is not an identical and functional replica of the placenta; however, it is capable of effectively modeling the biophysical components of the organ for research purposes. The clinical trial conducted to develop the organoid was published recently in Stem Cell Reports.

placentaThis model of the human placenta is the first self-renewing organoid of its kind, with its stem cells continuously forming new tissue over time. The researchers believe that this model will be capable of testing various drugs on the developing placenta, potentially allowing drug effects on pregnant women to be studied without animal studies. In addition to pharmaceutical testing, this organoid is capable of being studied via genetic modification as well.

The need for a safe method of testing drugs on the developing placenta is imperative for not only the safety of the mother, but the developing child as well. A Dutch study testing the effects of sildenafil on pregnant women was recently stopped after 11 babies passed away. Sildenafil, an erectile dysfunction treatment commonly sold as Viagra, was being tested to see if the drug can improve placental functions and assist underdeveloped babies in achieving proper growth. Starting in 2015, the trial involved 183 mothers, 93 receiving sildenafil and 90 receiving a placebo. Results found that 11 of the babies whose mothers were treated with sildenafil died from excessive blood pressure in their lungs.

“The fact that there were no self-renewing cell culture model systems available for the human placenta made it difficult, if not impossible, to study the causes of malfunctions. Establishment of the placenta organoid system will improve this situation significantly and will help advancing drug development and consequently medical treatments for dangerous gestational disorders,” states Knöfler.

Sources: 3D Printing Industry, USA Today, Medical University of Vienna