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What effect does air pollution have on unborn babies?
The increasing pollution has an increasing impact on human health. Researchers have now demonstrated for the first time that the tiny carbon particles that typically result from burning fossil fuels occur in the placenta of women.
In their current study, the scientists at the Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute found that tiny carbon particles enter the placenta of pregnant women as a result of environmental pollution. The doctors published the results of their study at the International Congress of the European Respiratory Society.
How does air pollution work?
Previous research had previously found relationships between pregnant mothers' exposure to air pollution and premature births, low birth weight, infant mortality, and respiratory diseases in children. The particles can be absorbed by women by inhaling polluted air and then reach the placenta via the bloodstream, the experts explain.
Inhaled particles enter the blood from the lungs
“We have known for some time that air pollution affects the development of the fetus and can affect babies even after birth and throughout their lives,” explains Dr. Miyashita from Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute in a press release. “We were interested to see if these effects could be due to contaminated particles moving from the mother's lungs to the placenta. So far, there has been little evidence that inhaled particles enter the blood from the lungs, ”reports the researcher.
Five expectant mothers were examined closely
The researchers worked with five pregnant women who all lived in London and had a planned Caesarean section at the Royal London Hospital. All of the women were non-smokers with an uncomplicated pregnancy and each eventually gave birth to a healthy baby. The mothers gave all researchers permission to examine their placenta after birth.
What are macrophages?
The scientists were particularly interested in certain cells called placenta macrophages. Macrophages exist in many different parts in the body. They are part of the body's immune system and act with harmful particles such as bacteria and dirt particles. In the placenta, they help protect the fetus, the researchers explain.
3,500 placenta macrophages were examined for the study
The team examined a total of 3,500 macrophages from the placenta of women and analyzed them under a high-performance microscope. They found 60 cells that contained 72 small black areas that the researchers suspected were carbon particles. They then examined the placenta macrophages from the placenta of two of the women with the help of an electron microscope and found material consisting of tiny carbon particles.
Pollutant particles have a direct impact on the fetus
"Our results provide the first proof that inhaled pollutant particles can get from the lungs into the circulation and then into the placenta," explains Dr. Liu from the Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute. "We don't know if the particles we found could go into the fetus, but our evidence suggests that this is actually possible," added the expert. It is also known that the particles do not have to get into the baby's body to have a negative effect. If they affect the placenta, this will already have a direct impact on the fetus, explains the doctor.
Stricter guidelines are needed
Stricter guidelines for cleaner air are needed to reduce the impact of pollution on health worldwide, because young adults are already suffering from health problems typical of air pollution, Dr. Liu and colleagues. (as)