New method to create patient-specific models of placental blood flow can improve understanding of conditions affecting the fetus

Mar 23, 2021 | News

Researchers have found a new method to create patient-specific models of placental blood flow, which can lead to a better understanding of conditions where the blood circulation of the fetus is known to be altered, helping to predict which pregnancies will be afflicted by these conditions and contributing to the development of effective therapies.

The research, produced in collaboration with GIFT-Surg, the University of Auckland and Great Ormond Street Hospital, involved generating computer models of the arrangement of placental blood vessels based on data from three-dimensional scans of placentas scanned after delivery.

Dr Andrew Melbourne, Senior Lecturer at King’s College London, said the method has the potential to be a powerful tool:

“It allows for the generation of patient-specific models of placental blood flow which will open new avenues for research for both surgical planning in twin-twin transfusion syndrome, and in understanding outcomes of conditions linked to placental blood flow problems, such as fetal growth restriction”, he said.

Professor of Obstetrics and Maternal Fetal Medicine at UCL, Anna David said: “We have found that significant alterations in placental vessel branching would have profound effects on blood flow around the organ. This information will help fetal medicine experts better understand how the fetus can be affected by damage to the placenta.”

While previous research had involved simulating placental blood flow, this is the first study based on real placental imaging.

By combining studies in human placentas with computerised modelling, the researchers built placenta-specific models of blood flow within the fetal side of the placenta to show how changes in blood pressure, or vessel narrowing, affected perfusion of the whole organ.

Using this method, they have found that the placental circulation is quite resilient to change – this is important as fetal wellbeing is critically dependent on this organ.

The research team is now developing these methods to study other mechanisms that can change blood flow within the placenta. The hope is to build a technology that can provide personalised models that will help to further improve our understanding of the critical role of the placenta in pregnancy.