For the first time in history, microplastic particles have been found in the placenta of human fetuses.
The study conducted by the Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome and the Polytechnic University of Marche - entitled "Plasticenta: the first evidence of the presence of microplastics in the placenta" - has been published in the journal "Environment International".
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Scientists have defined the results of the research "worrying". "It's like having a cyborg child: not composed only of human cells, but a mixture of biological and inorganic entities," said Antonio Ragusa, director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome and first author of the research.
"The discovery of microplastics in the placenta - explains Antonio Ragusa, lead author of the study - suggests a possible presence also in the fetus, although we did not look for these particles in children after birth. The risks for the child's health are not yet certain, but we already know from other international studies that plastics can, for example, alter fat metabolism. In addition, the placenta and the amniotic membrane are the environment that ensures the formation of the self and the identification of what is different from the self. Where the fetus in its development goes to identify the synthetic material as part of itself, the presence of plastics in the prenatal environment could actually alter the balance in the responses that the child's immune system adopts towards the external environment, changing the delicate epigenetic phenomena".
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As also reported by the Guardian, the study analysed the placentas of six healthy women, between 18 and 40 years old, with normal pregnancies, who gave their consent to the research. The researchers identified 12 fragments of artificial material in the placentas. Three were clearly identified as polypropylene, the material from which plastic bottles and caps are made. Nine fragments were of painted synthetic material. Five particles were found in the part of the placenta attached to the fetus and which is an integral part of the fetus, four in the part attached to the maternal uterus, and three inside the membranes that surround the fetus.
But what is the exact amount of particles traced? Calculating that only 4% of each placenta was analysed, it is likely that the total number of microplastics is much higher. The researchers reiterated an already known fact: being very small, these particles can enter the bloodstream. Could they also enter the fetus? At the moment, there is no answer to this question.
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