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The ability to directly monitor the status of the placenta throughout pregnancy would be a major advance in both general and personalized obstetric care, allowing treatments to be tailored to the dynamic changes that can occur in gestation. Syncytiotrophoblast extracellular vesicles (STBEV) are membrane bound vesicles, released from the surface of the placenta directly into the maternal circulation, in the form of exosomes, microvesicles and apoptotic bodies. They carry many syncytiotrophoblast derived factors such as proteins, lipids, glycans and nucleic acids, which together could dynamically signal to the mother the status of the placenta. We review STBEV research and discuss the potential for STBEV to be used as circulating syncytiotrophoblast biopsies, accessible via a simple blood sample throughout pregnancy, giving a real-time readout of syncytiotrophoblast health. We also highlight advances in the use of extracellular vesicles as circulating tumour derived biopsies in the field of cancer research, which could prove beneficial to obstetric care.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





134 - 138


Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading, PO Box 226, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AP, UK. Electronic address: