Tiny plastic particles may have subtle effects on the placenta, according to results recently published by researcher Hanna Dusza and her team in the leading journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The researchers call for additional studies to gain a better understanding of the effect of micro- and nanoplastics on the health of the mother and the developing child.

Researcher Hanna Dusza at work in the laboratory
Hanna Dusza at work in the laboratory, photographed by Bas Niemans (Utrecht University)

Health effects of microplastics still unclear

Previous research has found microplastics in the placentas of pregnant women. But what effect do these tiny plastic particles, with dimensions in the micron and nanometre range, have on the health of the mother and the foetus? A research team from Utrecht University, Dijklander Hospital, Vrije Universiteit, Deltares and Mount Sinai School of Medicine (US) performed a study in a laboratory setting of the uptake and transport of micro- and nanoplastics in placenta cells cultivated outside the body, and the effects on those cells. The researchers observed subtle changes in the expression of genes that are responsible for hormone production and metabolism. The proposal of research is  avaliable in English (choose 'Samenvatting van de aanvraag' under 'Verslagen' on the webpage). Read the Utrecht University press release on the effect of exposure to microplastics from the beginning of human life, and the publication in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Is more knowledge needed about effect of microplastics in placenta?

ZonMw is promoting and funding research into microplastics and health because, as the amount of micro- and nanoplastics in the environment steadily increases, we know little about the potential health risks. Knowledge of the risks posed by microplastics is needed to allow us to prevent damage to health. ZonMw therefore launched its Microplastics and Health programme in 2018. Visit our website to read more about the first 15 completed projects, including the placenta study. You can also read about studies on microplastics in human blood and other research results.

Links to other research

“Research on microplastics and health is like a jigsaw, and this study is an important piece of the puzzle”, explains senior programme manager Frank Pierik of ZonMw. “The knowledge agenda  which we drew up in 2020 indicates the remaining pieces of the puzzle that need to be found. There is a long way to go: besides the 15 breakthrough projects, and the follow-up by the MOMENTUM consortium, we will need to add more pieces to the puzzle to find appropriate solutions.”

 

 

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