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Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research Receives $3.5 Million from CDC to Study How Moms’ Prenatal Exposures to Disease, Medications Affect Babie

Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research Receives $3.5 Million from CDC to Study How Moms' Prenatal Exposures to Disease, Medications Affect Babies

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (Sept. 19, 2013) – The Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention has received $3.5 million in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to participate in a wide-ranging study that will examine how a mother's exposure to medications and diseases like diabetes and obesity may increase her risks for having a baby with birth defects. The program, which is housed on the campus of the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), will receive the funds over five years.

The Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention is one of six institutions to receive new funding, after the success of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. ACHRI participated in the national birth defects research group starting in 1997 and for 15 years until its conclusion. The national study provided important data on how nutrition, smoking, obesity and other risk factors affected pregnancies. The latest CDC project – called "Birth Defects Study To Evaluate Pregnancy Exposures" or BD-STEPS – provides funding that will help scientists at the six universities and agencies build on the results of that past research.

In Arkansas, the funds will allow Charlotte Hobbs, MD, PhD, director of the Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, and her team to look at a large group of women who had children with and without birth defects. New moms who enroll in the study will complete an interview about their exposures before and during pregnancy, giving the scientists valuable information based on their babies' outcomes. They'll also provide saliva samples for themselves, their infants and the babies' fathers so that biological risk factors may be identified.

"Embarking on this new research opportunity will allow us to identify environmental, lifestyle and biological factors that may increase a woman's risk for having a baby affected by a birth defect," said Hobbs, also the Pamela D. Stephens professor and section chief of Birth Defects Research in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine. "Birth defects are common, occurring in about one of every 33 babies, costly – both fiscally and emotionally – to society and families, and critical, resulting in frequent hospitalizations and sometimes death.

"We all want babies to be as healthy as possible," Hobbs continued. "Working as a team with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and five other research programs will provide us with the collaboration and support necessary to unravel the puzzle of birth defects."

In addition to diabetes and obesity, the study will look at some common medications women take during pregnancy, including certain antidepressants and antibiotics.

The study will begin enrolling Arkansas woman in mid-2014. Each year through 2017, the researchers aim to enroll 200 women who will be identified through the Arkansas Reproductive Health Monitoring System as having infants with birth defects, as well as 100 control cases.

An added benefit of the new CDC funding will be that it supports the work of younger scientists who are just beginning careers in birth defects research.

Each center that was awarded new funding was required to provide an approach to mentor a new generation of scientists.

"It is incumbent upon those of us who have spent our scientific careers studying the causes of birth defects to educate and equip another generation of scientists to move our efforts forward with innovative ideas taking advantage of the latest technological advances," Hobbs said. "We're excited about the new energy and expertise they will bring to these projects."

The other five centers that received CDC funding for this project to build on the success of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study are:

  • Massachusetts Department of Public Health;
  • New York State Department of Health;
  • University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill;
  • University of Iowa; and
  • Stanford University.

The Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention conducts local research studies and collaborates with researchers and public health experts across the country to develop public health programs to help prevent birth defects. Through synergistic collaborations, the Center combines surveillance, research and prevention to make a difference in the lives of children and their families. Research at the Center is supported by various sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Arkansas Biosciences Institute.

Arkansas Children's Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children from birth to age 21. Over the past century, ACH has grown to span 29 city blocks and house 316 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,000 employees. The private, nonprofit healthcare facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research - all dedicated to fulfilling our mission of enhancing, sustaining and restoring children's health and development. For more information, visit www.archildrens.org.

ACHRI provides a research environment on the ACH campus to meet the needs of the UAMS faculty. Research scientists at ACHRI conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses, preventing disease and improving the health of children everywhere.

UAMS is the state's only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. Named best Little Rock metropolitan area hospital by U.S. News & World Report, it is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has more than 2,800 students and 790 medical residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children's Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS regional centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com.

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