Preventing Birth Defects Due to Lead Exposure with Hematopoietic Stem Cell Therapy

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Illustration by Feri Fenoria

UNAIR NEWS – Pregnancy is a very important period for optimal physical and mental development of infant. It does not only require a balanced nutritional intake, pregnant women must also maintain health from chemical exposure due to environmental pollution that can endanger the safety of the fetus. The high lead content of vehicle fuel and smoke from factory waste in polluted air will have an impact on the health of pregnant women. Polluted air which is inhaled continuously by pregnant women will cause the fetus to be exposed to chemicals and dangerous substances or commonly called teratogens.

Teratogens are substances that can cause birth defects due to fetal development abnormalities in the womb. Teratogens can be in the form of chemicals, infections, certain drugs, and pollutants such as lead due to the combustion process of vehicle and industrial fuels.

Teratogens will interfere with the process of fetal organ formation in the womb (organogenesis) from the first trimester to the second trimester of pregnancy. If teratogenic substances succeed in interfering with the process of organogenesis, certain organs in the fetus cannot grow and develop as they should. So it will pose a risk of birth defects in external organs and internal organs. Until now it is estimated that around 4-5 percent of cases of birth defects are caused by teratogen exposure.

Hematopoietic Stem Cell Therapy

Hematopoietic Stem Cell (HSC) are stem cells that play a role in producing mature blood cells in the body. HSC can be found in the spinal cord, peripheral blood, and cord blood. These cells have the ability to develop and regenerate into various types of blood cells with certain specific functions, such as controlling the balance of homeostasis, immune system function, response to microorganism and inflammation.

Stem cells have the potential to treat diseases and correct abnormalities that cannot be treated with drugs or surgery. One of them is birth defects caused by teratogens.

UNAIR embryology professor from Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (FKH), Prof. Dr. Widjiati, M.Si., Drh. conducted a study related to the effect of HSC therapy on the expression of tumor necrosis factor (TNF-α) in pregnant mice exposed to lead. TNF-α is a pro-inflammatory mediator produced by macrophages to stimulate inflammatory cells. Severe infections can trigger the production of TNF in large numbers and cause systemic reactions.

“This research is a teratogen research with lead as a source of teratogen. Hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) were given in the hope of being able to repair damaged cells,” she explained.

Prof. Widjiati conducted research on two pregnant mice groups that had been exposed to lead with two different treatments, mice groups given HSC and pregnant mice groups without HSC. The study aims to determine whether HSC therapy can prevent birth defects due to lead teratogens that have contaminated pregnant mice.

The result showed premature death (miscarriage) in mice embryos that do not get HSC treatment due to the inflammation process by teratogens while pregnant mice that got HSC undergo the regeneration process of trophoblast cells damaged by inflammation. The weight and length of the fetus given HSC was higher than the group of pregnant mice without HSC therapy. So it can be concluded that the administration of HSC has a positive effect on the placenta and uterus of pregnant mice and is able to regenerate mice embryo cells damaged by teratogens.

“In the HSC-treated group, TNF-α expression decreased, as an indicator of decreased inflammation. Spiral arterial remodeling is reduced, thereby reducing the risk of miscarriage compared to groups without HSC, ” she explained.

Prof. Widjiati hoped the results of his research can provide scientific information that the lead contained in air pollution can be a source of teratogens causing birth defects especially in vulnerable environments with high air pollution.

Until now, HSC therapy is still in the testing phase through research and has not been practiced as a method of treating teratogens in humans. In the future, Prof. Widjiati plans to conduct further research to develop teratogenic research models.

“Yes, we plan to develop teratogenic research models, to determine the effects of teratogenic materials on birth defects in newborn,” she stated. (*)

Author: Zanna Afia

Editor : Khefti Al Mawalia


Widjiati, et al. Effect of Hematopoietic Stem Cell on Tumor Necrosis Factor- α Expression, Spiral Artery Remodeling and Placental Apoptosis in Lead-Exposed Pregnant Mice. Asian pacific Journal of Reproduction. 2017: 6(4). p. 158-163

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