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The Branch's mission is to develop a comprehensive national program for supporting research and training focused on understanding the biological processes that control normal embryonic development, as well as the mechanisms that underlie molecular susceptibility and etiology of structural birth defects. Major program areas for the Branch include developmental genetics, systems developmental biology, early embryonic development and differentiation, biophysics/biomechanics of development, developmental neurobiology and neural crest differentiation, organogenesis, regeneration and regenerative medicine, stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and structural birth defects.
Research projects supported by the Branch are primarily basic science in nature and use a variety of animal models, with a priority of elucidating the biochemical, molecular, genetic, and cellular mechanisms of embryonic development and an ultimate goal of understanding the causes of structural birth defects. Efforts to foster interactions between basic scientists and clinicians with common interests in structural birth defects are particularly important to the Branch.
New: Research Priorities
Biophysics and Biomechanics of Development
Gap: Biomechanical forces play essential roles in embryonic development but are not well studied, in large part due to current technical limitations.
Priority: Develop technologies and tools to measure mechanical forces associated with morphogenesis
Gap: The field of metabolomics is an important part of normal and abnormal development, but there are few studies and very limited existing knowledge regarding this emerging field within developmental biology.
Priority: Study how small-molecule metabolites, nutrition, energy utilization, and metabolism influence processes during embryonic development, and how imbalances can result in structural birth defects.
Gene Regulatory Networks
Gap: Simple, intuitive pathway models that are currently available are insufficient to explain the highly complicated genetic control mechanisms that govern vertebrate embryonic development.
Priority: Create predictive computational models of the gene regulatory networks that coordinate vertebrate embryogenesis.
Stem Cell and Regeneration Biology
Gap: Reliable, experimentally accessible human models for studying embryonic development and regenerative processes are lacking.
Priority: Use stem cells, iPSCs, and small-molecule agonists and antagonists of developmental pathways to model and understand human development and regeneration biology.
Structural Birth Defects
Gap: Existing NIH resources for structural birth defects research are underutilized.
Priority: Leverage the use of NIH resources (Knockout Mouse Phenotyping Program,
Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program,
Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes, and other databases,) by basic and physician scientists to gain insights into the causes of structural birth defects.
Gap: A lack of interactions between disciplines hampers effective collaborations in studying structural birth defects.
Priority: Encourage transdisciplinary interactions to bridge current gaps between developmental biology, computational, and clinical sciences.