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Texas A&M University

Superfund Research Program

Feto-Maternal Interface Tissue Chip Models for Rapid Assessment of Preterm Birth Risks of Hazardous Substances

Project Leader: Arum Han
Grant Number: P42ES027704
Funding Period: 2022-2027
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Project Summary (2022-2027)

Exposures to environmental hazardous substances, including those in the event of natural and anthropogenic disasters, are known to negatively impact pregnancy, leading to adverse outcomes such as preterm birth (PTB). However, establishing a clear link between exposure and pregnancy risk is challenging, due to lack of a mechanistic knowledge by which toxicants activate pathways causing PTB in maternal-fetal tissues. Unfortunately, current in vitro and in vivo toxicity testing models are either not sufficient in assessing the hazards of tested substances on pregnancy outcomes, do not represent the human in utero structure and functions accurately, or are too costly and low throughput. In addition, assessment of the hazards imposed by exposures to complex environmental samples that may contain multiple hazardous chemicals, often observed after disasters, is even more challenging. Here, the team is developing a feto-maternal (F-M) interface tissue chip-based testing strategy for assessing the human health hazard of environmental substances on PTB.

The project’s central hypothesis is that a tissue chip model that mimics the physiology of the complex multi-cellular F-M interface will enable evaluation of the mechanistic pathophysiologic pathways affected by exposure to complex environmental hazardous substances that may increase the risk of PTB. These tissue chip models mimic the fetal and maternal uterine tissues structurally and functionally and will be used to evaluate mechanistic pathophysiologic pathways in the F-M interface imposed by complex mixed environmental hazardous substances. This is accomplished through the following three aims.

In Aim 1, the project personnel develops a mechanistic model of PTB in response to environmental toxicants using a fetal membrane tissue chip model. In Aim 2, the team develops a mechanistic model of PTB in response to environmental toxicants using a placenta tissue chip model. In Aim 3, which focuses on the application of the project’s novel models for Disaster Research Response (DR2), researchers demonstrate rapid assessment of the potential human health hazards of environmental exposures on disrupting F-M homeostasis that can lead to PTB by using a higher-throughput F-M tissue chip model.

The success of this research will provide critical and timely information for hazard assessment on toxicants’ impact on PTB using tissue chip models, especially related to toxicants from existing Superfund sites and from emergency disaster-related contaminants. Thematically, this project is well integrated into the Texas A&M University Superfund Research Center that is focusing on addressing the human health risks of exposure to hazardous substances during and after emergencies, especially the effects on particularly vulnerable populations (pregnant women and children).

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