Can polluted air particles inhaled by a pregnant mother reach her placenta?

Traces of the pollutants were found in the foetal side which was very close to where the umbilical emerges

Published: Thursday 19 September 2019

Polluted air particles like black soot, when inhaled by a pregnant mother, could reach her placenta, found researchers at Hasselt University in Belgium.

They identified traces of this particle using a new detection method.

Doctors had till now struggled to establish a link between air pollution, premature births and low birth weights. All everybody knew was that air pollution affects the mother’s lungs and that somehow affects the baby.

What is interesting is the fact that the traces of the pollutants were found in the foetal side which was very close to where the umbilical emerges, according to the study published in Nature.

The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the foetus and filters out substances that could harm it.

The Belgian researchers identified these carbon particles using a new technique they had developed. They used ultra-short laser pulses that made the black carbon particles flash, so they could be identified. 

Earlier researches conducted on animals showed similar results, but this one was the first to be carried out on human placentas. The study was based on placentas donated by 28 new mothers. Of these, 10 were from highly polluted areas and 10 were from areas with low pollution. The higher the exposure to air pollution, the more black carbon was found in the placentas, according to the study.

Although not conclusive, the study showed that foetus could be directly affected by air pollution. This can open up a new direction on the effects of air pollution on foetuses. 

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