Marlene Anderka ScD, MPH, has served as the Principal Investigator and Director of the Massachusetts Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) since 2001. She oversees the collection of NBDPS data as well as development and implementation of the birth defects reseach agenda for the MA Center. She works closely with the two Center Co-Principal Investigators: Allen Mitchell, MD, Director of the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University and Lewis Holmes, MD, Director of the Genetics Unit at MassGeneral Hospital for Children.
Why do you think the NBDPS is important?
The NBDPS is the largest study of its kind ever conducted in the United States. Its large size allows researchers to study the causes of both common and rare birth defects. It also lets us look at the effects of rare exposures, such as certain medications, on the risk of birth defects. Because the study is ongoing, we can address new concerns that arise. We can also use the data to confirm findings between exposures and birth defects found in other studies. Finally, this study brings leading researchers from several states together, which makes it possible to solve problems that no one researcher could solve alone.
How long have you worked in this field? On the NBDPS?
I have working in maternal and child health epidemiology for 35 years and have focused on birth defects and the NBDPS for the last twelve years.
What are your research interests?
I am interested in nutrition and medication use in pregnancy and how they might affect a baby. My recent work has focused on treatments for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy and how they might harm the baby. The NBDPS collects data on nausea, vomiting and medication use during pregnancy, so it offers a chance to research questions related to this common condition.
What do you think the next big discoveries will be?
Looking forward, I think we will be able to better understand multiple risk factors and how they work together to cause birth defects. This will allow us to identify subgroups more likely to have a child with a birth defect after a certain exposure.
What are your major interests outside of work?
Knitting and biking: My most recent knitting passion is mittens from around the world. The shapes and color patterns are endless and many are unique to different places and populations. My husband and I bought new bicycles last year and love to ride the rail trails.
What would you like the study participants to know about you?
By nature I am persistent and determined. I will work hard to use the information they provide to the NBDPS to better understand what causes birth defects.
Selected NBDPS Publications:
Anderka M, Lin AE, Abuelo DN, Mitchell AM, Rasmussen RA. Reviewing the Evidence that Mycophenolate Mofetil is a Teratogen. Am J Med Genet. 2009; 149A(6):1241-1248.