Worldwide, between 5 and 10 percent of women are at risk for preeclampsia during pregnancy, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The condition “is associated with the abnormal development of the placenta that is characterized by maternal hypertension (high blood pressure) and proteinuria (protein in the urine) after the second trimester,” Che-Ying Kuo, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park’s Fischell Department of Bioengineering, told R&D Magazine. “This is a threat because it is a leading cause of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality.”
Currently, no treatment exists for the condition. The only option is premature delivery of the placenta and fetus. Though the exact pathobiology of the condition remains shrouded in mystery, previous studies suggest that it may arise when cells called trophoblasts don’t transfer normally due to an abnormal metabolism from the mother.
According to the American Chemical Society, studying this condition and the placenta is often difficult because models are usually 2D and oversimplify the organ.
But in a new study published in ACS Biomaterial Science & Engineering, Kuo and colleagues detailed their 3D bioprinted model of placenta tissue, which may pave the way for more in-depth studies and treatment development.
“The 3D model allows us to create a more biomimetic environment because the cells migrate in a 3D environment in our body,” said Kuo. “Also our model allows us to quantify migration rate, which has been a challenge in our field.”
According to Kuo, the 3D printer used in the laboratory is extrusion-based, meaning it uses different cartridges, which are loaded with biomaterials, cells and/or growth factors. In less than 30 minutes, the team can print a model of placenta tissue with living cells and biologically active molecules, including trophoblasts and epidermal growth factor (key to placental development).
“The model allows us to evaluate migration rate as a function of essential physiological parameters such as matrix stiffness and diffusion of growth factors, which cannot be done utilizing conventional 2D models,” said Kuo. “In addition, the 3D model potentially allows us to fabricate a co-culture system to look at cell-cell interactions in a 3D environment later, which is more relevant because it is widely accepted that, compared to 2D, cells behave very differently when they are in 3D.”
Kuo and colleagues learned that trophoblasts and another cell called hMSC were dosage-dependent on epidermal growth factor. More of the latter led to faster cell migration.
This “suggests that (epidermal growth factor) can be a potential therapeutic for preeclampsia,” added Kuo.
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