“Biomechanical Functions of the Extra-Embryonic Tissues Throughout Pregnancy”
Hosted by the Department of Biomedical Engineering
Abstract: Preterm birth affects approximately ten percent of pregnancies. Bioengineering investigations of pregnancy have great potential to elucidate fundamental aspects of reproductive physiology that are otherwise difficult to investigate, taking advantage of in vitro and in silico approaches. A pre-implantation human blastocyst consists of two cell types: the inner cell mass and the trophoblast. These cells differentiate to form the embryo and the extra-embryonic tissues, including the placenta and fetal membranes. From early implantation to full-term gestation, biomechanical functions relating to the extra-embryonic tissues are critical in establishing and maintaining a successful pregnancy. Cellular mechanics and cell-material interactions are involved with early implantation and placentation. Mechanical properties of the uterine tissues, including decidua and endometrium, are investigated in this context. In vivo cell behavior is modeled using a hydrogel with a chemical gradient model using microfluidics assays of trophoblast migration. The placenta’s function later in gestation—established only when early placentation has been successful—is examined using computational multiphysics modeling of oxygen diffusion and capillary blood flow in placental terminal villi exchange units. Finally, the mechanical fracture of fetal membranes is examined in the context of preterm birth: a new in vitro collagenase model is being developed to examine critical defect size for membrane failure. With the recent worldwide attention on poor maternal and fetal outcomes, fundamental biomechanical research into the extra-embryonic tissues, and their roles in preterm birth, is timely and necessary.
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