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Birth defects research

  • The processes of development still hold many mysteries.
  • We're working to prevent birth defects and find treatments.
  • Sought: genetic and environmental causes of birth defects.
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Preventing and treating birth defects

Each year in the United States, more than 120,000 babies are born with a birth defect. They are the leading cause of infant deaths. There are thousands of different birth defects, affecting the structure or function of every part of the human body. The March of Dimes provides grants to researchers, with the goal of understanding the causes of birth defects and developing new ways to prevent and treat them. Currently, about 70 percent of the causes of birth defects are unknown.

The processes of development

Some March of Dimes grantees are studying basic biological processes of development. This important research should improve our understanding of how genes and other factors direct the transformation from a single cell into a complete being. A more advanced look at the process of development will help reveal what can go wrong along the way. Others are conducting clinical studies aimed at finding ways to prevent or treat specific birth defects.

Genetic causes

Genetics has long been a main theme of March of Dimes research. Grantees have discovered genes that cause or contribute to a number of common birth defects, including fragile X syndrome, cleft lip and palate, and heart defects. These discoveries pave the way for treatments and preventions for these birth defects.

Research breakthroughs

From the PKU test to surfactant and nitric oxide therapies, March of Dimes funded research is saving the lives of thousands of babies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can folic acid help prevent birth defects?

Studies show that if all women in the United States took the recommended amount of folic acid before and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects (NTDs) could be prevented. Folic acid also may help prevent other birth defects, including cleft lip/palate and some heart defects.

How many babies are born with birth defects?

More than 120,000 babies (1 in 33) in the United States are born each year with birth defects.

What Causes birth defects?

Genetic and environmental factors, or some combination of these factors, can cause birth defects. Some of the most common birth defects, including heart defects, cleft lip/palate, and neural tube defects (serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord) are believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the causes of most birth defects are unknown.

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