Birth Defects Research

How it Began

To help reduce birth defects among U.S. babies, in 1996, Congress directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention (CBDRP). This directive was formalized with the passage of the Birth Defects Prevention Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-168).

This act authorized CDC to:

  • Collect 
  • Analyze 
  • Make available data on birth defects 
  • Operate regional centers that will conduct applied epidemiologic research for the prevention of birth defects 
  • Provide the public with information on preventing birth defects

The Centers were established in states with existing birth defect programs that had nationally recognized expertise in birth defects surveillance and research.

Texas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention

The Texas Center was established in 1996 as a part of the Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch (BDES) of the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin. The Center's mission is to conduct research studies to understand the causes of specific birth defects. Health disparities between Texans living along the border with Mexico and those living in non-border areas have long been a concern for public health officials, as well as for those who live and work in the border counties. The Texas Center is in a unique position to contribute to the understanding of what causes birth defects, especially because of the 1200-mile shared border with Mexico. Many border residents are Hispanic and data from this area can be compared to other populations to isolate geographic versus ethnic factors.

National Birth Defects Prevention Study

From 1997 to 2011, the Texas Center contributed information about birth defects cases as well as from healthy families in border counties to the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS). The study area for Texas is currently the area known as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which encompasses Gulf Coast industrial cities such as Corpus Christi, as well as Cameron County, which has experienced some of the country’s highest neural tube defect rates and is at the continental U.S.'s south-most point. The NBDPS is one of the largest studies on the causes of birth defects in the United States. Over the course of the study, 43,000 women from 10 states participated in the study.

Current Research

Research Using Texas Birth Defects Registry Data

The Center's staff and collaborators have expertise in the epidemiology of neural tube defects and their associated risk factors, demographic risk factors for birth defects, epidemiology, survey research, and molecular genetics. In addition to participating in NBDPS, the Texas Center funds and collaborates in local research projects, including the following:  

  • Studying the interaction of metabolic, genetic, and environmental risk factors for certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Examining the link between risk factors such as maternal diabetes, obesity, and dieting behaviors for neural tube defects.
  • Studying the relationship between certain environmental factors such as hazardous waste sites, air pollution, pesticides, and water disinfection byproducts.
  • Conducting and analyzing results from a telephone survey to examine knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to the prevention of birth defects, including folic acid supplementation.
  • Analyzing the patterns and risk factors associated with oral clefts, clubfoot, and ear defects in Texas. 

Our Partners

  • Texas A&M University, Public Policy Research Institute
  • Texas A&M University, School of Public Health
  • University of Texas System
  • UT Health Houston, School of Public Health, Austin Campus
  • UT Health Rio Grande Valley 
  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas