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Scientists have been able to deliver drugs safely to the placenta

Scientists have been able to deliver drugs to the placenta in a relatively safe manner. Their paper is published in Science Advances.


The woman’s body is created such that a foetus growing inside of her is well-protected within three layers of darkness (her belly, the uterus, and the placenta). This also means that the baby would be vulnerable if its shields happen to malfunction: if the placenta does not fulfill its purpose which is to maintain and nourish the baby, a number of complications can arise, leaving the baby vulnerable. Fixing this type of problems has proved to be challenging. The new study will, hopefully, change this.

The team of scientists behind the recent research explain that they have been able to understand how to deliver drugs to the placenta to protect its function. They have only achieved this by treating the placenta like a tumour.

Lead author Lunda Harris University of Manchester says that this is so because the behaviour of placenta is much like that of well-controlled tumours: they both undergo fast growth, involving growth hormones, and having the ability to get past the immune system. Delivering drugs to the placenta would then be similar to the techniques used to deliver drugs to tumours. Therefore, Harris and her team came up with the idea of targeting the placenta specifically as they would aim at tumours. Their goal was to boost the function of placenta in order to treat complications arising during pregnancy.

The team used two peptides usually used to target tumours; these are called CGKRK and iRGD, and they can be turned into tiny capsules that carry drugs. When using these on pregnant mice, the researchers found that the peptides could target the placental tissue in the same way they would identify tumours. The drug-carrying peptides then delivered a growth hormone to enhance the placenta’s functioning. This eventually prompted growth in abnormally small foetuses, thereby countering the otherwise malfunctioning of the placenta. Also, it is to be noted that no effect was found in mice with foetuses of normal size.

The researchers explain that when they tested them on human placenta, the peptides would bind to cells to enter through their membranes. This constitutes hope for future human trials.

Another good news is that no drug traces were found in the foetuses or in the mother after the job was done.

Therefore, these findings show that a “targeted therapy” could be used to help small babies to grow.

On the other hand, this might be risky for mothers who have cancers that have not been detected beforehand: the peptides might target either the placenta or the tumour. But, proper screening might counter this problem, according to the researchers.


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