Cell Map of the Placenta Might Be A Breakthrough for Avoiding Future Miscarriages

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A group of researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Newcastle, and the University of Cambridge has produced the most detailed cell map to date of the placenta. The purpose of that would be to understand the mechanisms that take place in the first weeks of pregnancy and to tackle all the issues that might pop up.

The scientists have mapped more than 70,000 transcriptomes (transcribed DNA) of healthy cells present between weeks 6 and 14 of pregnancy, thanks to genomic and bioinformatic techniques. This cell map, which reveals the cellular mechanisms of a healthy pregnancy, may in the future be compared with problematic cases to understand differences and predict complications, and perhaps shed more light on the ways to avoid them.

The analysis focuses on the first trimester because it is a crucial moment that determines the survival of the embryo. During this phase, the cells of the placenta form, which is a fundamental mechanism to avoid a rejection reaction. Thanks to them, the embryo adheres to the uterus in the innermost layer of the organ, which thickens to allow implantation.

Cell Map of the Placenta Might Be A Breakthrough for Avoiding Future Miscarriages

Miquel Vento, one of the researchers, stated that researchers have been “able for the first time in history to observe which genes are active in the cells that make up the placenta, thus discovering which ones modify the maternal immune system and allow the correct development of the fetus.”

The chances of pregnancy complications are highest in the first few weeks, while the fetus has not yet consolidated. It is estimated that two out of every three miscarriages occur spontaneously in this first trimester. According to the scientists, the study has focused on understanding a healthy pregnancy, but the objective is that it can serve to “predict if there is any type of alteration at the beginning of gestation. For example, this model might help to better understand the reasons for problems such as pre-eclampsia or miscarriages.

This study is part of the Human Cell Atlas initiative, which seeks to establish a complete reference map of all human cells to diagnose diseases better. It is a project led by the Wellcome Sanger researcher Sara Teichmann.


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