The placenta delivers nutrients from a mother’s blood to a developing fetus. It also produces hormones that help the baby grow during its forty or so weeks in utero. But the placenta’s powerhouse abilities don’t end there. The organ provides a wealth of information about the infant’s future health, allowing doctors to make predictions about whether or not the child will develop autism or, later in life, heart disease.
“The present study shows, for the first time, that the shape and size of the placenta have different functional meanings and can be determined independently,” the authors say in their paper. “Specifically, gross morphologic parameters of the placenta at birth can conceptionally be related to either placenta size (placenta weight), size-independent description of placental shape (shape parameters), or hybrids of these two independent poles (form parameters).”
The scientists studied over four hundred placentas derived from uncomplicated single pregnancies. They analyzed the organ’s size, geometric shape, as well as its form, which they calculated based on parameters such as diameter, thickness, roundness, and the connection point of the umbilical cord.
Measurements calculated manually, such as surface area and roundness of placental disc, were validated with Stereo Investigator. Dr. Hans-Georg Frank, a professor in the anatomy department at Ludwig-Maximilians-University who was a co-author on the paper, added that they also used the software to generate coordinates later exported to other computer programs for extended morphometric analyses.
“Stereo Investigator was a very important tool, which validated simple manual measurements, delivered exact morphometric information, and enabled export of intermediate results (coordinates) to other programs. It is thus in the methodological center of the study,” Dr. Frank said.
Haeussner, E., Schmitz, C., von Koch, F., & Frank, H. G. (2013). Birth weight correlates with size but not shape of the normal human placenta. Placenta.