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Polluting soot particles can reach the placenta

Monday September 17th, 2018

Soot particles from air pollution can reach the placenta, a European conference has heard.

The findings of the research by scientists at Queen Mary’s University of London, England, were revealed at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Paris yesterday (16 September 2018).

Although previous studies have suggested links between pregnant mothers’ exposure to air pollution and premature birth, low birth weight, infant mortality and childhood respiratory problems, this is the first to show that sooty particles reach the placenta via the bloodstream, researchers say.

Dr Norrice Liu, a paediatrician and clinical research fellow, and Dr Lisa Miyashita, a post-doctoral researcher, worked with five pregnant women in London, UK, who were all due to have planned caesarean section. Each was a non-smoker and had gone through uncomplicated pregnancies before giving birth to healthy children.

The team studied 3,500 placental macrophage cells from the five placentas and found 60 cells that between them contained 72 small black areas that researchers believe were carbon particles. On average, each placenta contained around five square micrometres of this black substance.

When they examined the placental macrophages from two placentas using an electron microscope, they found material that they believe was made up of tiny carbon particles.

Dr Miyashita said: “We’ve known for a while that air pollution affects foetal development and can continue to affect babies after birth and throughout their lives.

“We were interested to see if these effects could be due to pollution particles moving from the mother’s lungs to the placenta. Until now, there has been very little evidence that inhaled particles get into the blood from the lung.”

Dr Liu added: “Our results provide the first evidence that inhaled pollution particles can move from the lungs into the circulation and then to the placenta. We do not know whether the particles we found could also move across into the foetus, but our evidence suggests that this is indeed possible.

“We also know that the particles do not need to get into the baby’s body to have an adverse effect, because if they have an effect on the placenta, this will have a direct impact on the foetus.”

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | Europe | Respiratory | Traveller Health | UK News

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