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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.

Sample birth defects research grants

Asim Beg, PhD, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is studying the causes of a form of cerebral palsy called hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which affects movement more severely on one side of the body than the other. The ultimate goal is to develop a drug treatment to prevent or treat hemiplegic cerebral palsy.

Paul Ryland Brakeman, MD, PhD, University of California at San Francisco, is examining the role of a gene in the development of the urinary tract, for insight into the causes of urinary tract defects. Urinary tract defects affect more than 1 in 100 children and are a leading cause of kidney failure in children.

Ricardo Feldman, PhD, University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, is seeking to develop a novel drug treatment that can prevent brain damage in forms of Gaucher disease that affect the brain. Gaucher disease is an inherited disorder of body chemistry that leads to a build-up of fatty substances in various organs, sometimes including the brain. Currently available enzyme replacement treatment does not reach the brain.

Daniel Richard Foltz, PhD, University of Virginia in Charlottesville, is studying the development of the centromere, the region of a chromosome that directs the orderly pairing and separation of chromosomes during cell division. Malfunctioning of the centromere can result in egg or sperm cells with too many or too few chromosomes, resulting in a baby with Down syndrome or other chromosomal birth defects.

Lisa V. Goodrich, PhD, Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass., is studying the role of a gene in regulating the development of specific nerve cells in the inner ear, which are often abnormal in children with congenital hearing impairment. This could lead to improved treatment of hearing impairment, which affects about 3 in 1,000 children.

Brian Harfe, PhD, University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, is studying the role of specific genes in normal and abnormal limb development. Limb defects are common birth defects, but their causes are poorly understood. Understanding the causes of limb defects would be an important step toward learning to prevent them.

Robert Ho, PhD, University of Chicago, is seeking to determine the role of a gene in guiding the migration of immature nerve cells to their proper locations in a region of the brain called the cerebellum, for insight into how abnormalities in this gene may contribute to autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). ASDs are a group of disorders affecting speech, social skills and behavior that affect about 1 in 150 children.

Soo-Kyung Lee, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, is seeking to determine the role of a gene in development of the central nervous system, for insight into how abnormalities of this gene may contribute to neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (open spine) and anencephaly (a fatal brain defect).

Melissa M. Rolls, PhD, Pennsylvania State University in University Park, is studying nerve cell structures called dendrites, which may be abnormal in most forms of mental retardation, including fragile X and Down syndromes. This research could be a step toward developing a treatment for an underlying cause of mental retardation, which affects 1 to 3 percent of the population.

Stephanie M. Ware, MD, PhD, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, is seeking to identify novel genes that cause or increase susceptibility to congenital heart defects, in order to improve their diagnosis and treatment. Heart defects are among the most common birth defects, occurring in almost 1 percent of babies, and in most cases, the cause is unknown.

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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