Plasticentas: scientists find microplastics in human placentas

Italian scientists publish study that reveals the presence of pigmented microplastics in the human placenta.

“Due to the crucial role of the placenta in supporting fetal development and acting as an interface with the external environment, the presence of potentially harmful plastic particles is a matter of great concern. More studies are needed to assess whether the presence of microplastics can trigger immune responses or can lead to the release of toxic pollutants, resulting in damage, ”the Italian scientists wrote. in Environmental International magazine after demonstrating the presence of microplastics in the human placenta.

For the experiment, scientists led by Antonio Ragusa from the Gynecology department of the Hospital San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli, in Rome, collected six placentas from women who gave their consent and then analyzed them using a microspectroscopy technique applied successfully in the biomedical field, to characterize both biological samples and to detect the presence of microplastics and microparticles in general. Microplastics are particles of less than five millimeters derived from the degradation of plastic objects present in the environment.

In total, the scientists found 12 microplastic fragments (5 to 10 μm in size), spherical or irregular in shape, in 4 placentas on both the fetal and maternal sides. The particles were analyzed and confirmed to be pigmented. Three were identified as dyed polypropylene, a thermoplastic polymer, while for the other nine it was only possible to identify pigments, which were all used for artificial coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers, and cosmetics and personal care products. ..

Beyond the risks to human health, still unknown, the important thing is that this work confirms that humans have caused such a great impact on the environment and ecosystems that even one of the most remote places of our nature, the human placenta, is being invaded by these man-made materials.

“It’s like having a cyborg baby: it is no longer composed of just human cells, but of a mixture of biological and inorganic entities,” Ragusa, director of obstetrics and gynecology at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome, told the media.

How are microplastics reaching human placentas? Microplastics are believed to enter the mother’s bloodstream from the maternal respiratory system or gastrointestinal tract. Cells in both systems could “eat” these particles and keep them within themselves. Scientists believe that after this first mechanism takes place, the microplastics would travel to other organs of the body on account of inflammatory and immune responses.

“Once microplasts have reached the maternal surface of the placenta, like other exogenous materials, they can invade the tissue deep down through various transport mechanisms, both active and passive, that are not yet clearly understood,” they wrote.

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