Q. Scientists have been studying the placenta for a long time. What's different about this research effort?
A. Past studies of the human placenta have focused largely on the organ after delivery.
To fully understand the placenta and how it works, we need to be able to study it during pregnancy, while it's still doing its job. The Human Placenta Project aims to accelerate the development and application of innovative—and safe—technologies and approaches that will give researchers a new and dynamic picture of placental structure and function in real time. This information will help us better understand how the human placenta develops and how it works to ensure a successful pregnancy.
Q. Why the focus on the "human" placenta? Does that mean you aren't supporting work on animal and other model systems?
A. Model systems are critical to placental research, allowing researchers to perform studies that are not possible in humans. Much of what we know about placental biology to date has come from the study of model systems, and NICHD remains committed to supporting this continued research. The Human Placenta Project is not a replacement for these important efforts.
However, model systems can never be perfect substitutes for humans. The Human Placenta Project aims to address gaps in our understanding by allowing researchers, for the first time, to monitor human placental health in real time. This knowledge may improve the ability of health care providers to evaluate pregnancy risks and, in the future, lead to better pregnancy outcomes.
To reach that goal, additional research in animal models may be necessary. However, for the Human Placenta Project, we are interested in animal studies only if they have a clear path for eventual translation to humans. NICHD continues to support other basic research in placental biology through the funding of investigator-initiated proposals and other initiatives.
Researchers interested in non-HPP funding opportunities for placental research may wish to review our program announcement on trophoblast differentiation and function, PA-16-445 or contact John Ilekis, Ph.D., who manages NICHD grants that address the physiology, biochemistry, and genetics of the placenta.
Q. Are you accepting donated placentas for use in research?
A. No. We do not currently have a repository for placentas or placental tissue. We are exploring ways to promote this type of opportunity in the future.
Q. What projects are funded?
A. More information about our funded projects is available on NIH RePORTER, which provides details such as the project's description, principal investigator, organization, and cost. To streamline the list, we have included just one entry per project, showing the initial year of funding. However, all of these projects are multi-year awards, pending progress and the availability of funds.