Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Studying Birth Defects

Every day in Utah an average of three babies are born with birth defects and as a result, the state has the highest rate of oral-facial clefts in the nation. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in the U.S. affecting an estimated 150,000 babies annually and contributing substantially to pediatric morbidity and the cost of healthcare.

With a grant from CDC, $5 million in federal funds is available to help the University of Utah and the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) find out why the state has such a high level of birth defects. CDC first funded birth defects research in Utah in 2002.

Marcia Feldkamp, PhD, Director, UDOH’s Utah Birth Defects Network and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah, School of Medicine, said “the funds will allow us to continue to increase our study population by at least 400 mothers and children with and without birth defects each year.”

The grant will help researchers expand Utah’s epidemiological and genetic birth defect databases and will help extend current studies on environmental and genetic factors that influence birth defects. The researchers will use the Utah Birth Defect Network the state’s population-based surveillance program to find the babies for the study over a five year period.

All of the cases will undergo review by a clinical geneticist. They will collect DNA from babies and parents to look at genetic susceptibility and environmental exposures. Mothers willing to participate will be interviewed by participating in computer-assisted telephone interviews.

The next step will be to analyze and disseminate surveillance data, identify environmental factors, and then initiate projects to find genetic risk factors. The project will then disseminate data and develop and complete epidemiological and genetic studies on risk factors.