On the walls of the Bellevue Hospital office of Joseph Dancis, MD, hang a number of cartoons. Each caricatures the placenta in one of its many roles: a martial fetal guardian, hard-working transporter of fetal nutrients, begrimed handler of fetal waste.
The drawings serve to emphasize Dr. Dancis' conviction that the interrelationship of fetus and placenta cannot be forgotten and must be better understood.
"Although my primary interest in this organ is its impact on the welfare of the newborn, knowledge of the placenta's many specialized functions will contribute to many fields," says the New York University professor of pediatrics.
In Situ Techniques
Among techniques developed to investigate placental function is in situ perfusion of the organ. Guinea pigs are most often used because of their ready availability and physiological similarity of their placenta, in many respects, to that of humans in this function.The fetus, Dr. Dancis explains, is