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Dirty Air Particles Found In Pregnant Women’s Placentas, Potentially Endangering Babies

Sep 17, 2018 07:40 PM EDT
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Pregnant Woman
Pregnant women show traces of air pollution in the placenta. Scientists say that the sooty particles got there via the bloodstream.
(Photo : Gulcin Guler | Pixabay)

For the first time, evidence emerge of tiny air pollution particles in the placenta, adding to the potentially adverse effects of pollution on unborn babies.

Scientists presented their research at the European Respiratory Society International Congress on Sunday, Sept. 16.

According to Medical Xpress, the study suggests that when pregnant women breathe dirty air, small particles of the soot travels through the bloodstream and makes its way to the placenta.

Dr. Lisa Miyashita, a post-doctoral researcher at the Queen Mary University of London, explains in a statement that scientists are aware that air pollution affects fetus development and continues to do so for the rest of 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," she says.

The Study

Five pregnant women were involved in the research, all non-smokers from London who underwent uncomplicated pregnancies and planned caesarean section deliveries. The women also all gave birth to healthy babies.

The placentas of the five women were collected and analyzed after the deliveries, particularly the placental macrophages that are known to be part of the immune system. Macrophage cells work throughout the body by absorbing bacteria and pollution particles, but in the placenta, they protect the infant.

Using a high-powered microscope and an electron microscope, the researchers found 60 macrophage cells that contain a total of 72 small black spots that they believe were carbon particles.

It is the first ever evidence that inhaled pollution particles can get transported from the lungs to the placenta.

While further evidence may be necessary for final confirmation, Miyashita tells The Guardian that the research team can't think of anything else it could be as it's evident to them that the recovered elements are black sooty particles.

Danger To The Unborn

"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," Dr. Norrice Liu, a pediatrician and clinical research fellow, adds.

Mounting evidence has shown that air pollution is harmful to humans, even unborn ones. Childhood asthma has been linked to dirty air, while a recent study even noted pollution's role in a drastic drop in intelligence.

This recent study supports that toxic particles can make its way to the placenta, which is known for providing the fetus with nutrients. The findings not only encourage a better understanding in physicians, but also urge the enactment of better policies and initiatives worldwide that push for cleaner air.

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