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Department of Pathology


Researchers have mapped placental development from start to finish in a new study published in Nature.

Using single-cell, spatial-omics, and multi-omics approaches creates an in-depth, high-resolution picture of how the placenta develops and communicates with the uterus.

The research team, including Professor Ashley Moffett, the University of Cambridge as well as others from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI), Switzerland, EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), and collaborators.

This study was conducted as part of the International Human Cell Atlas (HCA) consortium, which aims to map every cell type in the human body. It informs and enables the development of experimental models of the human placenta.

"For the first time, we have been able to draw the full picture of how the placenta develops and describe in detail the cells involved in each of the crucial steps. This new level of insight can help us improve laboratory models to continue investigating pregnancy disorders, which cause illness and death worldwide,” said Anna Arutyunyan, co-first author at the University of Cambridge and Wellcome Sanger Institute.

The placenta is a temporary organ built by the foetus that facilitates vital functions such as foetal nutrition, oxygen and gas exchange and protects against infections. Forming and embedding the placenta into the uterus, known as placentation, is crucial for a successful pregnancy.


This work will play an important role in:

  • Understanding the placenta
  • Creating a spatiotemporal map of placentation
  • Developing effective lab models to study placental development 
  • Developing new ways to diagnose, prevent, and treat pregnancy disorders


The study, Spatial multiomics map of trophoblast development in early pregnancy, published in Nature is available here: 

Read more about the impact of this study here>>




Professor Ashley Moffett

Ashley is Professor of Reproductive Immunology at the Department of Pathology.

She has been at the forefront of research into the immunology of trophoblast invasion and its role in placentation for over 25 years. Her main areas of research currently are interactions between maternal Killer-cell Immunoglobulin-like Receptor (KIR) and fetal HLA-C molecules, the culture of human trophoblast cells and the link between KIR/HLA-C variants to pre-eclampsia, puerperal sepsis and obstructed labour. She leads the maternal health scheme as part of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Global Health Research.