The National Institutes of Health is pledging nearly $42 million to understand and monitor the development of the human placenta.

Previously, studies of the placenta have been limited to ultrasounds, blood tests, and the examination of postdelivery placental tissue. With the infusion of funding, the NIH seeks to develop new technology or new ways to use the existing technology that would allow physicians to safely track how the placenta functions during pregnancy. For instance, these technologies might gauge how blood and oxygen flow through the placenta or how the placenta transmits nutrients to the fetus.

The new funding is the agency’s latest contribution to the Human Placenta Project , which is also delving into the environmental factors that impact the placenta.

“The placenta is a fascinating organ, but it’s one of the least understood. For researchers who want to apply their skills in an area of medicine that isn’t being looked at as much as both scientific opportunity and human health warrant, this is a wonderful chance,” Dr. Alan E. Guttmacher, director of NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in the statement.The full announcement is available on the NIH website.

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