Placental dysfunction is implicated in many major complications of pregnancy associated with adverse maternal and infant outcome, such as preeclampsia, fetal growth restriction and stillbirth. Yet, despite years of intensive research, screening for these complications is still largely based upon clinical grounds rather than ultrasonic and/or biochemical assessment of placental function. One of the few widely employed methods for assessment of risk, low first trimester levels of PAPP-A (Pregnancy Associated Plasma Protein A), was identified through secondary analysis of data collected to identify new methods of screening for Down's syndrome rather than as a purposeful search for screening tests for abnormal placentation. Development of improved methods for population screening requires better mechanistic understanding of the pathways leading to placentally-related complications of human pregnancy. This is in addition to a need for identification of biomarkers which reflect the underlying pathology, while predicting associated disease with high sensitivity and specificity. In this paper, we outline some of the challenges and opportunities in this area. Furthermore, we illustrate how some of these can be addressed in research studies using the example of the Pregnancy Outcome Prediction (POP) study, a prospective cohort study conducted in Cambridge, UK. Placenta.