Fetal growth and chemicals

How is BiSC helping to study fetal growth and chemicals with neurosonography and cardiac sonography scans?

Last October, a new predoctoral student joined the BiSC Project under one of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme. Using the detailed and unique sonography measurements taken from BiSC participants, the predoctoral student will study the effects of the chemical exposome on the developing fetus.

The ‘exposome’ is a word that researchers use to describe all of the components we are exposed to throughout life. From our environment, our habits and lifestyle, we are exposed to a myriad of chemicals. These chemical exposures come from many different sources (air pollution, cleaning products, pesticides etc.) and we need to know more about how they are affecting our health. The BiSC cohort is helping to study the associations between these chemical exposures during pregnancy and fetal development, specifically of the brain and heart.

Not all babies will receive a fetal brain or heart scan during the normal course of pregnancy. That is why these measurements are so special to the BiSC cohort and affiliated research projects. With the detailed measurements of the fetal brain and cardiac scans, we are able to broaden our understanding of how these vital organs develop across pregnancy. Did you know that by the 30th week of pregnancy the fetal brain emits its own brain waves which can be measured from outside the mother?

Fetal heart scans inform us about cardiac development in the fetus, but also the health status of the mother. For example, blood flow in the fetal heart in addition to measurements of placental blood flow give us valuable information on the cardiovascular health of the mother. This level of detail helps us to quantify the associations between early chemical exposures and how they may be affecting the pathways of blood flow between the mother and the developing baby. Building on this knowledge base serves as a tremendous help to researchers who are studying the effects of the chemical exposome on fetal development. Early findings suggest that exposure to certain chemicals may increase the resistance of blood flow to the placenta and affect its formation and development of vital organs, but much more detailed research is necessary to fully understand these processes.

This post has been written by Bethany Knox, predoctoral fellow at the BiSC Project.