The placenta has been used for its medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. Recently, placentophagy, the act of consuming the placenta, typically in pill form, has gained popularity for its benefits in dealing with postpartum healing and depression. However, the placenta has other medicinal uses outside of the realm of pregnancy and birth and has become an extremely valuable medicinal tool for dealing with many conditions.
What is the Amniotic Membrane?
The part of the placenta that is most commonly used for these medicinal purposes is the amniotic membrane, or AM for short. The amniotic membrane is an inner layer of the placenta which surrounds and protects the fetus during pregnancy. It is so widely used because the amniotic membrane is a universal transplant, meaning you do not have to wait for a donor of a specific type. The AM has minimal “foreign” cells, meaning it is unlikely to be rejected after grafting or implantation.
“Therapeutic benefits of placental membranes are attributed to their composition (collagen-rich matrix with tissue nature growth factors and stem cells) and properties (anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-scarring) that are supportive of tissue repair and regeneration” (Tyler Hoffman & Alla Danilkovitch).
Medicinal Uses of the Placenta
- Eye Surgery
The amniotic membrane is extremely useful in replacing or repairing damaged tissue in the eye. It can be used as a graft to treat epithelial defects or ulcers, or as a protective covering that serves as a bandage which stimulates the healing process. Its clinical applications in ophthalmology include treatment for corneal epithelial defects, corneal ulcers, glaucoma, pterygium, and bullous keratopathy.
- Burn Management & Healing
Severe burns are some of the most difficult wounds to manage and heal properly, and often require a specific burn unit that can provide specialized care. These burn centers are not always easily accessed, which can be extremely detrimental to a burn victims healing process. However, a study in 2017 concluded that the amniotic membrane, when used as a dressing for burn therapy, can assist in outpatient medical management of burn wounds. The study concluded that,
“The ease of application and associated clinical benefits of vCPM (viable cryopreserved placental membrane) use may mitigate several of the complications seen post burn injury leading to favorable patient outcomes, even in the outpatient clinical setting” (Eric L. Johnson, Elisabet K. Tassis, Georgina M. Michael, and Susan G. Whittinghill).
- Gum Disease
Gum disease often results in loss or damaged gum tissue, that is difficult to rebuild. Previously, a patient could have tissue harvested from their soft palate to replace the lost gum tissue, which is less than ideal. Luckily, the AM serves as a wonderful tool to promote cell growth and replace the damaged or lost gum tissue.
- Diabetic Foot Ulcers
Diabetic foot ulcers or DFU’s are one of the most common complications for patients with type 2 diabetes. These ulcers are difficult to treat and heal, and there are many factors that can negatively affect the wound healing process. AMs have been proven to help treat these difficult-to-close wounds, and studies show that advances in tissue preservation has allowed for the development of commercial placental membrane products, making them easier to access.