Lifewatch: Studying the placenta

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - A woman who has just given birth is not likely to spend much time thinking about her placenta, but a closer study can provide peace or signal trouble in the years ahead.

Chief of Obstetric and Perinatal Pathology Dr. Rebecca Baergen and her colleagues examine over 1,500 placentas a year.

Dr. Baergen said since the placenta contains arteries and veins from both the mother and baby, the organ can show changes and abnormalities that can indicate underlying disease in the mother like Lupus, diabetes, and blood clotting disorders.

"It's important that they know that they have this and sometimes the first indication that they have this underlying disorder is an abnormal placenta," said Dr. Baergen.

The placenta was the living space for the baby for nine months and can reveal potential genetic problems and growth issues, as well as predisposition to any inherited diseases passed on from the mother.

"The placenta is a very vascular organ, so when these vessels are not formed normally, that can cause decreased growth of the placenta and or baby or abnormal growth," said Dr. Baergen.  "And this also has implications for the future health of the baby."

She said even the umbilical cord attached to the placenta can be extracted for stem cells for research.

Placentas can also be used to help answer future health questions because they provide a source of DNA.