The first center in Europe devoted to studying birth defects has just opened at University College London. Funded by a 6.5 million pound donation from the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, the Newlife Birth Defects Research Centre will be devoted to figuring out how birth defects arise and finding new ways to treat them.
Birth defects affect roughly 2% of pregnancies across Europe. In the United Kingdom, that amounts to one out of every 45 live births. Several of these birth defects are severe and require medical intervention within the first few weeks -- if not hours -- of the child's life. The Centre's website notes that those born with birth defects are 15 times more likely to die within their first year, and that those who manage to survive past that point face a lifetime of continued medical intervention.
The Centre is expected to house three different teams of specialists in state-of-the-art laboratories. Centre specialists hope to determine the causes of birth defects such as spina bifida, heart defects, and cleft palate. The teams would research, among other things: (1) the genetic origins of birth defects, (2) how the brain and spinal cord grow, (3) new pathways to stimulate the growth and repair of heart issues, (4) ways to improve diagnosis of epilepsy and brain tumors sooner, and (5) ways to introduce stem cells into the eye to regenerate cells for those born blind.
The creation of the Newlife Birth Defects Research Centre should not only be of benefit to Europeans, but also to families all over the world. Being able to prevent birth defects would not only save families heartache and worry, but also the enormous medical bills that come with them, especially in the United States. Until that becomes a reality, frequently the only means of recourse families have is to sue for relief if the birth defect has an outside cause.
In many cases, the cause of birth defects is genetic or may be due to the parents' lifestyle habits. However, other times, birth defects may be traceable to environmental toxins or prescriptions drugs. For instance, there is evidence that mercury, in particular, can cause birth defects. Mercury emissions are frequently tied to coal mining and coal burning facilities, such as power plants. Not only can mercury be inhaled, but it can also pollute the water, which includes contaminating fish that is later consumed. Another potential cause of birth defects is a toxin known as bisphenol A (BPA), which until recently was widely used in plastic bottles and is still in the lining of certain cans of food.