- Title: Soot from air pollution reaches fetal side of placenta: study
- Date: 24th September 2019
- Summary: DIGITALISED IMAGE OF MICROSCOPIC IMAGE OF PLACENTA PARTICLES
- Embargoed: 8th October 2019 16:09
- Keywords: mothers carbon emissions placenta soot found in placenta pollution pregnancy babies Hasselt University air pollution black carbon climate change carcinogenic Professor Tim Nawrot
- Location: HASSELT / BRUSSELS, BELGIUM / PARIS, FRANCE / BEIJING, CHINA
- City: HASSELT / BRUSSELS, BELGIUM / PARIS, FRANCE / BEIJING, CHINA
- Country: Belgium
- Topics: Health/Medicine,Editors' Choice
- Reuters ID: LVA002AY0Q7GN
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Airborne carbon particles that can cause health problems in adults and children are getting into the placenta as it nourishes a developing fetus, a new study by Belgian researchers has found.
Soot emitted through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels contains harmful 'black carbon'. These particles can pass through the protective barrier of the placenta and enter the fetus tissue, according to a report published recently in Nature Communications.
The new findings were made by a team of researchers from Hasselt University, Belgium, who analysed tissue samples from 5 pre-term and 23 full-term births.
Professor Tim Nawrot, who led the study, told Reuters that mothers who had been subjected to higher levels of pollution registered a larger concentration of harmful particles in their placentas.
"They can really pass from the mother's side of the placenta to the fetal side and then they are in the same blood compartment as the fetus itself," he said.
In addition to transferring oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the fetus, the placenta is supposed to be a barrier - albeit not a perfect one - that protects the fetus from substances that might harm it.
Whether those particles, created by the combustion of fossil fuels, pose a direct risk to the fetus is an unresolved question. But the researchers speculate that the pollutants may play a role in the low birth weight or premature delivery more often seen in babies whose mothers are exposed to higher levels of contaminated air. Such particles have also been known to slow cognitive abilities, and they've been seen in the urine of healthy children and in the brain at autopsy.
The breakthrough in understanding the ramifications of pollution on placentas came after new microscope technology allowed scientists to detect black carbon particles using lasers.
More research is necessary to demonstrate the precise health effects the presence of pollutants has on a developing fetus. The Hasselt team hopes to visualise and analyse the effects of these particles in the future.
(Production Jorritt Donner-Wittkopf, Christian Levaux)
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