No one can deny the harmful effects of air pollution. But the question of whether or not the human foetus can be negatively affected by pollution has remained unclear, until now.
According to the authors of a new study presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Paris and led by Dr Norrice Liu, a pediatrician and clinical research fellow at Queen Mary University in London, ‘sooty particles’ were found in the placentas of five pregnant British women who consented to the experiment.
But how does pollution reach the placenta? The study suggested that the pollution was ingested by the mother’s lungs and then transmitted to the placenta. While it is still not concluded in the study about the mechanism of the particles that move from the placenta and into the foetus, Dr Norrice Liu suggests that this explanation is highly probable. Even if the way these particles move is still not proved, they still have an adverse effect on the placenta.
The researchers isolated macrophage cells, which are part of the body’s immune system and contain harmful particles such as bacteria and air pollution. Using an optical microscope, they found 72 dark particles among 3,500 cells and then used a powerful electron microscope to examine the shape of some of the particles. They looked very much like the sooty particles found in macrophages in the lung.
This new research suggests a possible mechanism of how babies are negatively impacted by pollution while they are still in the womb. Dr Lisa Miyashita, another author who participated in the study and conducted the research, says air pollution has “previously been correlated with early birth and low birth weight, both of which can affect babies well after their birth”.
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