August Working to better understand the effect of common medications on unborn babies
The number of preterm births and neonatal deaths is growing worldwide due to the increasing prevalence of environmental toxins that can affect unborn babies.
Clinical trials are the current approach for ensuring a substance is safe for humans; however, just 1% of all clinical trials consider pregnant women. As a result, there is limited scientific data available on how many medications and environmental chemicals can affect unborn babies and pregnant women. The lifesaver project aims to develop miniaturised lab-based organ-on-a-chip models of the placenta for drug testing, along with a virtual clone guided by machine learning that can predict the safety and risk of substances towards unborn babies.
Contributing to the LIFESAVER project, a European-wide research consortium, the team at CURAM will focus on designing and manufacturing an organ-on-a-chip platform that mimics key components of placental tissue for emulation of typical prenatal conditions. Leading the project for CÚRAM are Dr Andrew Daly and Professor Abhay Pandit. Daly is a Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering and CÚRAM Funded Investigator. His research focuses on developing bioprinted models of development and disease.
As Daly explains: “Our research will include developing biomaterial microenvironments that mimic the placental tissue, along with using bioprinting to recreate the cellular microarchitecture of the placenta. This platform will be used to evaluate the toxicity of common medications and environmental substances. It will provide crucial input data for the virtual clone that will be used for predicting toxicity.”
Predictive lab-based models of the placenta will accelerate the effective screening of pharmaceuticals and chemicals which could affect unborn babies. This will help ensure healthier and safer lives for future generations.
Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director of CÚRAM, said: “CÚRAM is proud to be a consortium partner in the LIFESAVER project, which addresses the current unmet societal and healthcare needs in creating a valid and scientific knowledge base, which is needed for the development and implementation of regulatory approaches relevant to maternal and fetal health.”
LIFESAVER concept is based on an original idea of hybridization of several innovative technologies, integrating digital in silico/in vitro (biodigital twin) systems, enabling effective screening of chemicals and pharmaceuticals which might affect pregnant women's health, reducing animal, preclinical and clinical testing, which is not presently possible with any other existing approaches to the same level of confidence.
About Dr Andrew Daly
Dr Andrew Daly was awarded a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Trinity College Dublin in 2018, where he developed bioprinted implants for cartilage and bone regeneration under the supervision of Prof. Daniel Kelly. He was awarded the Engineer’s Ireland Biomedical Engineering Research Medal for this work. Before this, he graduated with a First Class Honors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Trinity College Dublin in 2013. In 2018, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania as a Postdoctoral Fellow under the supervision of Prof. Jason Burdick. In 2020, he was awarded an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship to develop bioprinted disease models for drug screening applications.
To date, his work has been published in the top journals in the field, including Nature Communications, Nature Reviews Materials, Cell, Biomaterials, Advanced Science, Acta Biomaterialia, Advanced Healthcare Materials, and Biofabrication.
In the LIFESAVER vision, every pregnant woman must have a proper living environment with minimal risks to the fetus, safeguarded with scientifically justified regulations in the use and control of potentially risky chemical and medicinal products, leading to healthier quality lives for the babies, overarching for generations.
The objective is to create a new, digitally cloned in vitro system for emulating the prenatal conditions in the vicinity of the uterine/placental interface, capable of future high biofidelity prediction of safety and risk of substances towards unborn babies.
The outcomes are in designing, manufacturing and deploying a platform with key components of in vitro placental tissue for sufficient emulation of typical prenatal conditions. This aims to provide a solid scientific rationale for new chemical and pharmaceutical use regulations relevant to the Green Deal vision.