People are often surprised to learn that birth defects are common, found in 1 in 33 newborns. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the United States, accounting for more than 20% of all infant deaths. Birth defects also contribute substantially to illness and long-term disability. Most of the time, doctors and scientists do not know what causes them. In fact, the causes of about 70% of all birth defects remain unknown. The National Birth Defects Prevention Study is the largest study in the U.S. looking at the causes of birth defects.
The study began in 1996 when Congress directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention (CBDRP). The Centers are in Arkansas, California, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah. These states have existing birth defects programs with nationally recognized expertise in birth defects surveillance and research. CDC coordinates the CBDRP and participates in the NBDPS as the tenth study site.
The Centers have interviewed more than 35,000 women. These women are mothers who have had babies or pregnancies affected by birth defects as well as mothers of healthy babies. Mothers are also asked to collect cheek cells from their families. These cheek cells will be used for genetic studies.
What makes the study important?
Learning the causes of birth defects can help us to prevent them. The size and scope of this study will provide the nation with a vast resource to look at possible causes of birth defects. It will also help us to identify new substances in our environment that might be harmful to developing babies. We will also investigate the role that genetic factors play in the development of a baby, especially those genetic factors that interact with substances in our environment. The valuable information we get from the study will help to develop effective programs to prevent birth defects.