The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences provided funding for the study. All three agencies are components of the National Institutes of Health. The study results appear in the August 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
"This study shows that we've reached a point where it's possible to take blood samples from parents, test certain genes, and determine whether their risk for a second child with cleft lip or palate is, say, 1 percent or 20 percent," said Jeffrey Murray, M.D., a scientist at the University of Iowa and senior author on the study. "Now is the time to begin thinking about how best to apply these types of tests clinically and ensure that they truly benefit the families and their children."
Isolated clefts arise during fetal development from a dynamic interplay of genes, diet, and environmental factors, and current research tools are just beginning to cut through the complexity. Though the condition is usually correctable with several surgeries, families undergo tremendous emotional and economic hardship during the process. Children with this condition often require many other services, including complex dental care and speech therapy.
"These results show that a specific gene plays a crucial role in the development of isolated cleft lip and palate," said Dr. Kenneth Olden, director of NIEHS. "This discovery will provide parents with important information that will enable them to make informed decisions about future pregnancies."
According to Murray, babies born with the isolated form of cleft lip
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NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences