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expert reaction to placental organoids being created in vitro

Research published in Nature demonstrates the creation of cell cultures of trophoblast – the unique cell type of the placenta.


Prof Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, Professor of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology, University of Cambridge, said:

“This is a fantastic achievement from my colleagues and neighbours in the Department.  These placental organoids should shed light on early stages of placental development but also it might be possible to develop their use for screening the safety of drugs to be used in early pregnancy.

The placental organoids also offer powerful possibility for testing the development of the embryo-like structures, which were established from the stem cells earlier this year in my group.  It would be a dream come true if placental organdies could improve the development of these synthetic embryos as this could provide knowledge of how to rescue so many pregnancies that fail at that time.”


Dr Vivian Li, Group Leader, Francis Crick Institute, said:

“This isn’t the first time that placental organoids have been created. Earlier this year, another team reported they had created placental organoids*. The culture conditions they used in both papers are fairly similar. I think the major improvement of the new Nature study from Cambridge is that they could maintain the long-term culture of these placental organoids. They were able to drive the mini-placentas to produce pregnancy-specific hormones that can be detected by an over-the-counter pregnancy test kit simply by dipping into the culture dish.

“Organoid technology has been a breakthrough for stem cell and cancer research in the last decade. Organoids are 3D stem cell culture that resemble structurally and functionally a specific organ in our body. We can now culture organoids derived from many different tissues in our body including bowel, liver, lung and even brain. They are invaluable research tools for studying development and diseases such as cancer.

“The recent development of placental organoid is another exciting breakthrough. These mini-placentas are generated in small-scale, and certainly cannot be used for making babies in a dish. But the ability to culture these mini-placentas in the dish has opened up the possibilities for more complex studies such as early embryo/placental development and the response of placenta to environmental factors such as nutrients and hormonal changes in the womb.”


Dr Jane Stewart, Chair, British Fertility Society said

“It’s brilliant to see new techniques being developed so we can model aspects of fertility, in the lab. In this case, the placenta tissue could help us gain a better understanding of early pregnancy. In particular, the process where a fertilised embryo implants into the lining of the womb is very difficult to study and this could really help.

“This type of work – where we gain a better understanding of basic processes – can underpin clinical research. Ultimately, the treatments available in future will have an excellent evidence base.

“The team’s commitment to driving this research forward and bringing it to fruition should be commended.”


‘Trophoblast organoids as a model for maternal–fetal interactions during human placentation’ by Margherita Y. Turco et al. was published in Nature at 18:00 UK time on Wednesday 28th November. 


Declared interests

Dr Vivian Li: No conflicts of interest.

None others received.

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