CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- An international team of researchers, including scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, have received money for a study.

A total of $3 million will fund efforts to understand how early gut development can shape a child's health throughout their lifetime. The scientists will collaborate to map the makeup of a healthy gut in children five and younger.

"Children are not young adults. They have unique anatomy and unique physiology and we need to understand that better to be able to better serve them for their needs," said Dr. Sana Syed, a pediatric gastroenterologist at UVA Health.

The results will allow for new ways to fight against different intestinal and nutritional diseases to help children live healthy lives.

As part of the study, the researchers will be collecting tissue samples from children that are undergoing endoscopy procedures to examine the digestive tract. These samples will come from children in Virginia, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Pakistan.

The samples will hopefully help the scientists better understand how a child's environment, genetics and other factors can influence their early gut development. These conditions are also called the social determinants of health.

The eventual aim is to create an "atlas" of the healthy gut in young children, bolstering efforts to better fight gut diseases that can often affect young children, causing lifelong harm.

For example, the researchers will be looking at the effect of heavy metal exposure in drinking water, which is particularly high in Pakistan.

Such heavy metals can alter the microbiome of the gut, so scientists want to measure the exposure by looking at the amounts of metals accumulated in toenails.

Specifically, this work aims to shed more light on areas that are traditionally underrepresented in this kind of research, rural, minority and disadvantaged communities. The scientists hope to expand these efforts into Africa and Asia in the future.

The plan is to make these finding widely available so that researchers around the world can access them and have a better understanding of good gut health.

The funding is coming from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.