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Embryogenesis is an intricate process that can easily be disrupted by means of teratogenic agents. Some of these agents target the embryonic period's "window of susceptibility," three to eight weeks after a pregnant woman's last menstruation, when the highest degree of sensitivity to embryonic cell differentiation and organ formation occurs. The embryonic period or critical period is when most organ systems form, whereas the fetal period, week eight to birth, involves the growth and modeling of the organ systems.
Many difficulties can arise with a pregnancy even after the sperm successfully fertilizes the oocyte. A major problem occurs if the fertilized egg tries to implant before reaching its normal implantation site, the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants anywhere other than in the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies cannot continue to term, so a physician must remove the developing embryo as early as possible.
Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) is a rare placental disease that can occur at any time during pregnancy involving identical twins. TTTS occurs when there is an unequal distribution of placental blood vessels between fetuses, which leads to a disproportionate supply of blood delivered. This unequal allocation of blood leads to developmental problems in both fetuses that can range in severity depending on the type, direction, and number of interconnected blood vessels.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a fatal, inherited disease found in humans and characterized by buildup of thick, sticky mucus, particularly in the respiratory and digestive tracts. The abnormally thick mucus prevents the pancreas from functioning normally; it often leads to digestive problems and chronic lung infections. Cystic fibrosis is most prevalent in Caucasian individuals, and approximately 1 in every 29 individuals in the US is a carrier for the mutated CF gene.
Vitamin A (retinol) is an essential vitamin in the daily functioning of human beings that helps regulate cellular differentiation of epithelial tissue. Studies have shown that an excess of vitamin A can affect embryonic development and result in teratogenesis, or the production of birth defects in a developing embryo. Excess intake of vitamin A and retinoids by pregnant women often results malformations to fetuses' skulls, faces, limbs, eyes, central nervous system.