Researchers Find Air Pollution Particles Inside Mothers’ Placentas


Researchers at Queen Mary University in London have presented their study at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Paris recently and showed that there is evidence of air pollution particles in the mothers’ placentas, possibly reaching and affecting the fetuses.

The study has only had five pregnant women from the UK under analysis and could examine their placentas. Researchers found sooty particles present inside the placentas. The leader of the research, Dr. Norrice Liu, who is also a pediatrician and clinical research fellow at Queen Mary University, stated:

“We do not know whether the particles we found could also move across into the fetus, but our evidence suggests that this is indeed possible. 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 fetus.”

The women that were part of the study lived in London, were non-smokers, had uncomplicated pregnancies and healthy babies which were delivered after a planned cesarean section.

They all consented to give their placenta to the research team, who examined it for placental macrophages. These cells are part of the immune system of the body and protect the placenta from bacteria and pollution particles.

The report stated that the team analyzed 3,500 macrophage cells from the placentas, and found 60 cells contained 72 dark areas. Dr. Lisa Miyashita presented the research at the Congress, stating:

“We’ve known for a while that air pollution affects fetal development and can continue to affect babies after birth and throughout 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. Until now, there has been very little evidence that inhaled particles get into the blood from the lung.”

The president of the European Respiratory Society, Dr. Mina Gaga concluded that the research “suggests a possible mechanism of how babies are affected by pollution while being theoretically protected in the womb.”

She agreed that we need to reduce pollution “because we are already seeing a new population of young adults with health issues.”

Previous research has already linked infant morbidity, premature birth and low birth weight with exposure of pregnant mothers to polluter air. This research is in its early stage, but the findings build on previous studies, furthers “our understanding of causal pathways to disease,” said Dr. Mireille Toledano – chair in Perinatal and Paediatric Environmental Epidemiology (Imperial College London).


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