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NICHD Highlights 2015 Research Achievements in Placental Research

Last Updated on Thursday, December 17, 2015

The human placenta -- the organ that connects the pregnant mother and her baby -- is the focus of a major research program started in 2015 at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

pregnant_womenFrom the NICHD: "In September, NIH invested $46 million in the Human Placenta Project, an initiative to address key, unanswered questions about the placenta: How does a healthy placenta develop during pregnancy? What role does it play in a person's long-term health? What are the factors that lead to problems with placental development and function, and are they reversible? Answering these and other questions will enable physicians to monitor pregnancies better and ultimately help prevent adverse outcomes like preeclampsia, premature birth, or stillbirth. The findings also may provide insight on why some people develop chronic diseases later in life, as some adverse pregnancy outcomes have been linked to a higher risk of future health problems—for both mom and baby—such as heart disease.

The placenta—a critical but poorly understood organ—serves as the developing fetus's lungs, kidneys, liver, and gastrointestinal, endocrine, and immune systems. It also produces hormones that maintain the pregnancy and prevents the mother's immune system from attacking the fetus. Current studies are limited largely to post-delivery examination of the placenta, but advanced, real-time monitoring may catch problems at treatable stages.

In the initial round of funded studies, researchers will develop safe, noninvasive methods to monitor the placenta throughout the entire pregnancy. Some teams also will identify environmental factors, such as smoking or obesity, that may affect the function of the placenta. Investing in this research will provide the foundation for improving the health of mothers and children at the earliest possible stages."

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) was established in 1962 with an all-encompassing goal of investigating human development throughout the entire life process, including the study of physical and intellectual developmental disabilities, fertility, pregnancy, and childhood diseases. Today, they continue this legacy by conducting and supporting many exciting initiatives and projects in our mission.

Other 2015 NICHD research highlights of interest to preeclampsia adovcates included "Improving the Health of Premature Babies" and "A Focus on Women's Health." For the full list of research highlights, please visit the NICHD website.




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