Through its intramural and extramural organizational units, the NICHD supports and conducts a broad range of research on neural tube defects (NTDs).
NICHD-supported researchers investigate the genetics of NTDs, as well as neurological and environmental variables that influence neurobehavioral outcomes. They assess the effects of these conditions on physical and intellectual development in early childhood, develop new diagnostic ultrasound techniques, and study the advantages of spinal cord repair while the affected fetus is still in the uterus.
The Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch (PPB) supports research on the detection and treatment of spina bifida, the most common neural tube defect. PPB -supported researchers have validated positive outcomes of in utero surgery to repair myelomeningocele, the most severe form of spina bifida. In addition, with the support of the PPB, scientists investigate the potential development of new techniques for diagnosing spina bifida before birth.
The Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch (IDDB) supports an extensive body of research evaluating the cognitive, motor, and social development of people with spina bifida. These studies examine development across infancy, childhood, and adolescence. IDDB studies on neural tube defects also examine specific interventions to stimulate motor skills, such as walking during infancy and the toddler years; investigate the long-term effects of spina bifida on the ability to learn; and assess the effects of spina bifida on forming and maintaining relationships in early adolescence.
These programs are complemented by other research areas of the NICHD on genetic risk, patterns of embryonic development, and prenatal nutritional status. For example, the intramural Program in Genomics of Differentiation uses zebrafish to investigate patterns of genes in embryonic development.
The NICHD also collaborates with institutions in Ireland, where NTDs are relatively common, through its Division of Intramural Population Health Research. In one of these studies, researchers found that women with low levels of vitamin B have an increased risk for giving birth to a child with an NTD.
Human genetics is also the focus of research supported by the Developmental Biology and Structural Variation Branch (DBSVB). Researchers are investigating the specific genetic activity that drives the development and growth of the fetus both under normal conditions and when the neural tube fails to form completely.
To achieve its goals for research on NTDs, the NICHD supports a variety of other activities. Some of these activities are managed through the organizational units listed above. Other activities are part of NIH-wide or collaborative efforts in which the NICHD participates. Some of these activities are listed below.
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