Placenta-on-a-chip: Microsensor simulates malaria in the womb to develop treatments

August 29, 2017, Florida Atlantic University
Sarah Du, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant and an assistant professor in the Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering in FAU's College of Engineering and Computer Science, and Andrew Oleinikov, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical science in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. Credit: Florida Atlantic University

Malaria, one of the most severe public health problems, affected 212 million people worldwide in 2015. This life-threatening disease is caused by parasites that are transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Though malaria usually cannot be transmitted from mother to baby in utero, both might be affected because malaria-infected red blood cells adhere to blood vessels in the placenta, resulting in about 10,000 maternal and 200,000 newborn deaths annually. Those hit hardest are in developing and subtropical countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

By combining microbiology with engineering technologies, researchers from Florida Atlantic University are developing a first-of-its-kind 3D model that uses a single microfluidic sensing chip to study the complicated processes that take place in malaria-infected placenta as well as other placenta-related diseases and pathologies. They have received a two-year, $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop this technology, which will mimic the microenvironment of placental malaria, specifically the maternal-fetal interface.

"There are a number of challenges in studying the biology of the human placenta in its natural form or in situ because of ethical reasons as well as accessibility," said Sarah Du, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant and an assistant professor in the Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering in FAU's College of Engineering and Computer Science. "That is why there is such a great need for a placental model that can be used for research purposes."

With malaria, parasites are released during a mosquito bite into the bloodstream and infect liver . They then reproduce in the liver cells, burst, and cause thousands of new parasites to enter the bloodstream and infect . They reproduce again in the red blood cells, destroy them and move on to destroy other uninfected blood cells. The most dangerous form of malaria is P. falciparum. If left untreated, those infected with the disease could die.

Du, together with her mentor and grant multi-principal investigator, Andrew Oleinikov, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical science in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, came up with the idea of developing a Placenta-on-a-Chip device using embedded microsensors. They are designing this device to provide real-time monitoring of vascular cell well-being and nutrient circulation across the barrier between mother and fetus, and under the influences of the to see how it responds to various drug treatments.

Placenta-on-a-Chip will be able to simulate actual blood flow in vitro and mimic the microenvironment of the malaria-infected placenta in this flow condition. Researchers will be able to closely examine the process that takes place as the infected red blood cells interact with the placental vasculature and to identify interventions that reverse parasite-infected erythrocyte adhesion that is found in placental tissue.

"We want to advance the understanding of human diseases down to the single cell level and ultimately develop new treatments to combat devastating diseases like malaria," said Oleinikov. "I have been studying infectious diseases including malaria since 2004, and became interested in researching the cellular and pathological events that occur in women when they get infected with malaria, especially during their first pregnancy when both mother and fetus are most vulnerable."

Year one of the research will focus on the effects of malaria on the mother, and year two will focus on the effects of malaria on the fetus. The microfluidics developed by FAU's College of Engineering and Computer Science will produce micro-scaled devices to allow researchers to get a closer look at cells and their interaction before, during and after being infected by malaria.

"Bringing together outstanding scientists from different disciplines is critical to advancing research as well as improving the quality of life for people across the globe," said Javad Hashemi, Ph.D., professor and chair of FAU's Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering. "With this National Institutes of Health grant Drs. Du and Oleinikov will be able to continue developing this important sensing platform. Their efforts will help to reveal the molecular details of placental pathology and other placental pathologies with the ultimate goal of alleviating as well as preventing the spread of infectious diseases."

Explore further: When malaria infects the placenta during pregnancy, baby's future immunity can be affected

Related Stories

When malaria infects the placenta during pregnancy, baby's future immunity can be affected

May 9, 2017
Mothers infected with malaria during pregnancy can pass more of their own cells to their baby and change the infant's risk of later infection, a new study shows.

Placental blood flow can influence malaria during pregnancy

January 31, 2013
Malaria in pregnancy causes a range of adverse effects, including abortions, stillbirths, premature delivery and low infant birth weight. Many of these effects are thought to derive from a placental inflammatory response ...

New clue to how mosquitoes fend off malaria

January 24, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at the National Institutes of Health has found another part of the process that allows mosquitoes to keep from getting malaria even as they carry the parasite responsible for the disease ...

Malaria parasite may trigger human odor to lure mosquitoes

February 9, 2017
Scientists may have figured out part of the reason why mosquitoes are drawn to people infected with malaria.

Recommended for you

Synthetic DNA-delivered antibodies protect against Ebola in preclinical studies

November 13, 2018
Scientists at The Wistar Institute and collaborators have successfully engineered novel DNA-encoded monoclonal antibodies (DMAbs) targeting Zaire Ebolavirus that were effective in preclinical models. Study results, published ...

Scientists illuminate causes of hepatitis B virus-associated acute liver failure

November 13, 2018
National Institutes of Health scientists and their collaborators found that hepatitis B virus (HBV)-associated acute liver failure (ALF)—a rare condition that can turn fatal within days without liver transplantation—results ...

New strategy discovered toward possible prevention of cancers tied to mono, the 'kissing disease'

November 12, 2018
Researchers from the University of Minnesota, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the University of Toronto have discovered a possible path forward in preventing the development of cancers tied to two viruses, including ...

Combination therapy promising against blindness-causing bacterial keratitis

November 12, 2018
Multidrug-resistant bacterial infections of the cornea are a leading cause of blindness and cannot be effectively managed with current ophthalmic antibiotics. A team of investigators has now devised a combination therapy ...

Hepatitis C treatment can be shortened in 50 percent of patients, study finds

November 12, 2018
Hepatitis C drugs cure more than 90 percent of patients, but can cost more than $50,000 per patient.

Salmonella found to be resistant to different classes of antibiotics

November 12, 2018
Brazil's Ministry of Health received reports of 11,524 outbreaks of foodborne diseases between 2000 and 2015, with 219,909 individuals falling sick and 167 dying from such diseases. Bacteria caused most outbreaks of such ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.