July 25, 2021

1,200 pregnant women searched to study the effects of contamination from the placenta | Science

1,200 pregnant women searched to study the effects of contamination from the placenta | Science



1,200 pregnant women are sought in Barcelona. To be able to be, they are within the first trimester of pregnancy. The health of the children of the future goes in it. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned last week that 90% of the world's children breathe toxic air daily. Pollution is a major problem for health authorities and its impact on health does not include ages. That is why a group of researchers from several hospitals in Barcelona have launched an appeal to recruit pregnant women and to launch an ambitious study on the impact of pollution on prenatal health. Scientists want to tackle the problems caused by air pollution from the beginning, before even being born.

"We suspect that fine particles [uno de los contaminantes más comunes derivados del tráfico rodado] They can also reach the fetus. Any small deviation in the beginning of life can have great consequences. One third of intelligence is determined during pregnancy", admits Eduard Gratacós, director of BcnNatal, the maternal and child health service of the Hospital Clínic and Sant Joan de Déu in Barcelona, ​​which will be responsible for recruiting, together with the Sant Pau hospital in Barcelona and the ISGlobal, a center driven by La Caixa Foundation, to women candidates to participate in the study.The objective is to study how the placenta acts in the presence of contaminants and how the brains of children develop before and after childbirth.

The impact of pollution on children's health is an old acquaintance of ISGlobal researchers. The entity has developed several research projects that verified the influence of pollutants on children's brain development, even before they were born. One of them, for example, proved that Exposure to pollutants during pregnancy slows children's cognitive development by up to two months. "When we had a marker of environmental quality of prenatal life, we found that, depending on where they lived, there was an impact on the structure of the brain and this has consequences for the rest of life," says Dr. Jordi Sunyer, director of the project and head of the Children and Environment program of ISGlobal. Other research of ISGlobal, framed within the Breathe macroproject, also showed that pollution reduces the attention span of children and that schoolchildren exposed to areas of higher pollution suffer alterations in the connectivity and the functional development of the brain.

This new study launched by the four Barcelona centers goes one step beyond what has been studied to date and is submerged in the stages prior to birth. Specifically, the researchers want to study the evolution of fetuses from the first trimester of pregnancy. "We want to see if to live pregnancy in different areas of the city, form in different brains, and if that has to do with the development of diseases," Sunyer summarizes. This study will be prospective and plans to continue until the adult age of the fetuses.

The design of the study is now ready. According to Dr. Elisa Llurba, Head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sant Pau, follow-up will begin after the first ultrasound of the 12 weeks of gestation. Researchers will submit the pregnant woman to an exhaustive life habits test and will leave a series of devices in her home to measure pollution, noise and temperature for a week. The mother will also have to carry a backpack for 48 hours that also measures pollution in the environment where she usually interacts and a GPS that geolocates her position "to detect pollution peaks". For one week, the participant will have to wear a bracelet that measures their physical activity and also geolocates their movements.

The objective is to study how the placenta acts in the presence of contaminants and how the brains of children develop before and after childbirth.

This whole process will also be repeated at 32 weeks, when the researchers will do another ultrasound. An initial test will also be done and urine samples will be taken at the beginning and end of the pregnancy. In the delivery, samples of the umbilical cord and the placenta will be taken and the baby will continue to be checked periodically and the child's neurological development will be checked at six, 12 and 18 months. "The mother and the fetus do not go separately, the safe placenta that explains many things and we think that it can be a key point to explain the impact of contamination," augurs Llurba.

Researchers suspect that the impact of pollution reaches even the preconceptional stage. "We hope to find that, really, air pollution has a structural impact on the development of the brain and the formation of the body," ditch Sunyer.

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