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Placenta-on-a-Chip: Universal Drug Testing Using Microfluidics

Placenta-on-a-chip prototype (Photo credit: Hashemi Lab from Iowa State University)

Organ-on-a-chip technology is a rapidly growing segment within the field of microfluidics. These microscale chips combine cell biology with the principles of microfluidics to create dynamic cell culture models that can more accurately mimic the physiological conditions found within organs and tissues, compared to traditional cell culture models. Organ-on-a-chip models show promise for more rapid, improved drug testing and toxicology studies, and in the future could replace costly, ethically questionable and often inaccurate animal models.

In particular, the organ of the placenta has not seen much development within organ-on-a-chip technology, with only a couple of models being developed. Drug testing targeted at the placenta has lacked reliable, dynamic in vitro testing designed to mimic in vivo situations. .

Hashemi Lab at Iowa State University is working on designing a placenta-on-a-chip, which will mimic the nutrient/waste transfer between maternal blood and fetal blood that occurs in the cotyledon section of the placenta. The innovative design of the chip incorporates the two over-lapping channels, used in a majority of lab-on-a-chip devices, where two layers, one containing epithelial cells and the other containing endothelial cells, will be introduced into the chip. It is hoped that the resulting in vitro model could be used as a tool for investigative pharmacological and biological studies regarding molecular transport across the placental barrier. An important part of drug testing is to determine if a substance is teratogenic and could cross the placental barrier and harm the fetus; using the placenta-on-a-chip model could help detect possible teratogens early in the drug testing process. Eventually, this chip could also be integrated with similar chips created by other groups to allow researchers to develop a “body-on-a-chip”.

To gain more insight on the work you can visit Prof. Hashemi‘s lab website:, read the review paper in Advanced Healthcare Materials, and watch their video here:

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