Presence of polluting particles in placenta

“Black carbon” is a component present in the smoke of the motors of the vehicles that use hydrocarbons as fuel. These are very small particles (with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers) that are produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and are suspended in the air we breathe, entering by air into our body.

Image of the exhaust pipe of a city vehicle.

Recently, Dr. Tim Nawrot (from Hasselt University, Belgium), a health and environment specialist, showed the presence of black carbon particles in human placenta samples. It seems that these particles would enter the bloodstream through the capillaries of the lungs, and from there they would reach the placenta.

Optical microscopy (pulsatile laser post-illumination) image of a placental biopsy showing the presence of black carbon particles, denoted by white arrows. [Source: Bove et al, Nature Communications, 2019]

Black carbon, like other fine particles that are part of urban air pollution, has been associated with a number of health problems, including respiratory diseases in adults and children. However, we do not yet know the effects that these particles could have on placental function and proper fetal development during pregnancy.

In the BiSC project we will have the privilege of collaborating with Dr. Tim Nawrot to accurately measure the amount of black carbon particles present in the participants’ placenta. In this way, we can study how the different levels of exposure to urban air pollution affect the arrival of particles into the tissues of the placenta through the bloodstream. This will raise awareness of how pollution can influence the physiology of pregnancy and fetal development.

All this is possible only with the collaboration of BiSC project volunteers, who agree to donate their placenta for scientific research. Thank you all!

The text has been written by Laura Gómez, intrnship student from the BiSC project.