Newswise — For an organ that only functions for nine months, the placenta has been taking the science world by storm. It recently garnered front page coverage in the New York Times, when a newly published study showed that a placenta’s bacterial population may help shape the health of the infant by influencing the bacterial makeup of its gut. The bacteria that normally colonize the human intestines can affect metabolism and perhaps also the risk for obesity and diabetes.

In another recent report in the journal, Molecular Human Reproduction, it was shown that the placenta may be central to the process that causes female babies to be more likely to have better outcomes after preterm birth, lower rates of stillbirth and neonatal death, and better health outcomes overall as compared to male babies.These two new findings show that the placenta is more central to infant development and health then was originally recognized, reflecting well on the idea of using placental cells for treating diseases.

In fact, just last month, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the establishment of the Human Placenta Project, which seeks to improve understanding of the placenta and its role in human health and development. The following statement is made on the NIH’s site regarding the impetus for the Human Placenta Project:

The placenta is the least understood human organ and arguably one of the more important, not only for the health of a woman and her fetus during pregnancy but also for the lifelong health of both. To address this lack of knowledge, the NICHD believes a concerted effort, the Human Placenta Project, would make substantial inroads.

Other multi-disciplinary projects established by the NIH to expand knowledge about a distinct topic include the Human Genome Project and the Human Connectome Project. According to a study published last year, the Human Genome Project created a $966 billion economic impact, and has led to new diagnostics, drugs and a rapidly expanding genetics industry.

One company that is banking on the therapeutic powers of the placenta is Haifa, Israel-based Pluristem Therapeutics, a key player in the regenerative medicine space. Pluristem takes cells from donated human placentas, which are generally discarded after birth, and expands and modulates them in 3-dimensional bioreactors using proprietary technology.

The therapeutic cells produced in Pluristem’s manufacturing facility are injected into muscle where they secrete proteins which could potentially treat certain cardiovascular diseases, muscle and tendon injuries and preeclampsia, one of the leading known causes of premature births, stillbirths and early neonatal and maternal deaths. According to the World Health Organization, preeclampsia occurs in approximately 6%–8% of pregnancies worldwide. It is estimated that preeclampsia costs the global health care system $3 billion annually.

“Pluristem long ago recognized the importance of the placenta as a source of immuno-privileged therapeutic cells that can be administered without matching. We have conducted extensive pre-clinical and clinical research into the functioning and mechanism of action of placental cells, and their therapeutics potential” stated Pluristem CEO Zami Aberman. “We applaud the NIH’s efforts to spur further studies of the placenta. A greater understanding of this very unique organ can open new pathways for therapeutics based on placental cells for numerous diseases including preeclampsia.”

“As a global leader in placental cell therapies, it is rewarding for us to see a growing recognition of the role the placenta plays in human health, and we are pleased to be a key contributor to scientific knowledge and advancements that can lead to important new therapies,” said Dr. Karine Kleinhaus, Pluristem’s Divisional Vice President for North America.

The company is gearing up Phase II and phase III trials in the cardiovascular and muscle injury indications and expects to begin a phase I study in preeclampsia in late 2014.

About Pluristem TherapeuticsPluristem Therapeutics Inc. is a leading developer of placenta-based cell therapies. The Company's patented PLX (PLacental eXpanded) cells are a drug delivery platform that releases a cocktail of therapeutic proteins in response to a host of local and systemic inflammatory and ischemic diseases. PLX cells are grown using the Company's proprietary 3D micro-environmental technology and are an "off-the-shelf" product that requires no tissue matching prior to administration.

Pluristem has a strong intellectual property position, Company-owned GMP certified manufacturing and research facilities, strategic relationships with major research institutions and a seasoned management team. For more information visit