Gnecco JS, Anders AP, Cliffel D, Pensabene V, Rogers LM, Osteen K, Aronoff DM. Instrumenting a Fetal Membrane on a Chip as Emerging Technology for Preterm Birth Research. Current pharmaceutical design. 2017 Aug 25. PMID: 28847303 [PubMed]
Preterm birth (PTB) is clinically defined as process of giving birth before 37 weeks of gestation and is a leading cause of death among neonates and children under the age of five. Prematurity remains a critical issue in developed countries, yet our understanding of the pathophysiology of PTB remains largely unknown. Among pregnancy complications, subclinical infections such as chorioamnionitis (CAM) are implicated in up to 70% of PTB cases. Specifically, CAM is characterized by the infection of the fetal membranes that surround the developing fetus and extend from the placenta, and is often associated with preterm, premature rupture of the fetal membranes (PPROM). The fetal membrane plays a key structural role in maintaining the fetal and maternal compartments of the gravid uterus. However, our understanding of the mechanisms of PPROM and the spatio-temporal progress of CAM remains vastly unknown. A lack of human-derived models have hindered our understanding of the mechanism that govern spontaneous PTB. Thus, in this short review, we discuss the emerging microfabrication technologies, specifically, organ-on-chip (OoCs) models, that seek to recapitulate the cellular and molecular context of the gestational membranes in vitro. These models show promise to facilitate the investigation of pathologic mechanisms that drive these disease conditions by mimicking the interactive contribution of the major cell types that make up the microenvironment of the fetal membrane and enable high throughput screening. Herein, we histologically characterize the microenvironment of the fetal membrane as a metric for scaling to recapitulate the functional components of the human fetal membrane. We review the current OoC models of the gravid uterus and conceptualize an "Instrumented Fetal Membrane on a Chip" (IFMOC) design as a prototype for PPROM and CAM research. Lastly, we discuss further applications of these OoC models for toxicological or pharmacological screening and personalized medicine. Fetal membrane OoCs offer an innovative and valuable platform to explore complex interactions between multiple drug types, toxic substances, and/or pathogenic microbes and their potential impacts on pregnancy outcomes. Further work will be required by integrating technological and analytical capabilities in order to characterize the fetal membrane microenvironment for preterm birth research.