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Cleft lip project receives funding from government

December 10, 2015

Dr. Vieira
A proposal to learn more about causes of cleft lip and palate, and to look for treatments, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health has earned $2.6 million in federal funding.
    
The researchers' effort will benefit from the first round of funding under the Gabriella Miller First Research Act under the National Institutes of Health, according to a news release from the school. Gabriella Miller died of brain cancer Oct. 26, 2013 at age 10 after working to raise support for research into childhood illnesses.
    
The research will sequence the entire genomes of nearly 1,300 people, including 430 children with clefts and their parents. This genome project is among the largest oral condition-related investigation undertaken by NIH, according the news release.
    
"It will be the first time we will have a chance to sequence the whole genome of a more substantial number of patients at once," said Dr. Alexandre Vieira, a co-investigator on the project and director of clinical research at University of Pittsburgh's School of Dental Medicine.
    
The heritability related to cleft lip and palate is more complicated than Mendelian, making this research undertaking especially challenging, Dr. Vieira said.
    
"In the case of cleft lip and palate, we have examples of several different genetic modes of inheritance. Most clefts are caused by the interplay of several genes, but a small subset may be Mendelian forms," Dr. Vieira said. "In addition, we may have clefts caused by environmental factors, and clefts caused by classic chromosomal aberrations."
    
Cleft and lip palate are among the most common birth defects, affecting about 1 in 700 babies. In most of the cases, the interplay of genetic factors and other factors, including smoking during pregnancy, increase the risk of a child having cleft lip or palate, according to the university's news release.
    
"In addition to looking at variations in genes that might lead us to treatments, we're also looking for answers for parents who have a child with a cleft and want to know if any future children are at risk," said principal investigator Eleanor Feingold, Ph.D., professor of human genetics and senior associate dean at Pitt Public Health said in the news release. "This project will help us improve genetic counseling so we can tell parents if their family is predisposed to cleft lips and palates or if it's a genetic aberration that is highly unlikely to happen again."
    
In October, the ADA hosted a first-of-its-kind conference addressing genomic data as it relates to dentistry.
    
The ADA intends to summarize and publish conference sessions by early 2016 for members.