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  1. Ethical Science News

  2. Mar 8, 2019

Caffeine Transfer From Mother to Fetus Studied With Placenta-on-a-Chip

Study in a Sentence: Researchers at Iowa State University have used "placenta-on-a-chip" technology, a nonanimal method, to see if, and how much, caffeine can cross from mother to baby.

Healthy for Humans: In the human body, the placenta feeds oxygen and nutrients from the mother into the fetus through the umbilical cord. A thin barrier separates the mother's bloodstream from the fetus', however, many chemicals and substances can cross that barrier. Iowa State researchers designed a placenta-on-a-chip, using human umbilical vein endothelial cells and trophoblasts cells, which work like the placental barrier, and tested how well compounds could cross it.

Redefining Research: To date, most human placenta drug testing methods use animals, which seldom replicate to human responses. This platform enables researchers to further study the pharmacokinetics of different drugs across the placental barrier, and also to examine the safety of drugs administered to pregnant women. Caffeine transport across the placental barrier was studied because caffeine is a foreign substance to the body and is widely consumed on a daily basis. Scientific literature on the amount of caffeine safe for consumption during pregnancy is conflicting, further investigation on caffeine transport across the placenta barrier is warranted.


Pemathilaka RL, Caplin JD, Aykar SS, Montazami R, Hasemi NN. Placenta-on-a-chip: In vitro study of caffeine transport across placental barrier using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Global Challenges. 2019.

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