The study published in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging used a new technique to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to scan the placenta. The noninvasive approach offers valuable insights into how the mother's blood enters the placenta and sustains the fetus with oxygen and nutrients during early pregnancy.

Placenta influences the health of both a woman and her fetus during pregnancy. Maternal blood supply to placenta can be measured using the technique developed by the UCLA scientists.

The newly developed technique breaks novel ground because most previous studies on this subject occurred in the laboratory after childbirth.

The placenta is a temporary organ that joins a pregnant woman to her baby through the umbilical cord. Few methods exist for safely and accurately studying the placenta in early pregnancy.

Ultrasound indirectly measures uterine blood flow, but it is not very effective at predicting pregnancy complications. Another procedure, chorionic villus sampling, can be used to biopsy the placenta, but the test is invasive and can increase the risk of miscarriage and infection.

In the prospective study, the researchers collected the arterial blood of 34 women, who were in their second trimester of pregnancy. Later they used newly developed MRI technique to track water molecules in the arterial blood.

The new technique allowed the team to measure how much blood entered the placenta and reached the developing baby in the womb, which expands doctors' ability to accurately determine the health of the placenta.

Using MRI technique, the doctors were able to measure blood flow to the placenta. Additionally, they could distinguish the normal and abnormal placental function.

The information obtained, allows them to predict and prevent complications later in pregnancy before symptoms or testing occur. Common complications include premature birth, placental stroke, intrauterine growth restriction and gestational hypertension, and preeclampsia.