Posts Tagged ‘ birth defects ’

Pollution, Autism Linked in Study

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Environmental toxins like air pollution may play a role in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) at levels that dwarf the extent to which pollution contributes to birth defects.  More from Time.com:

Several studies have shown a link between air pollution and autism, but a new study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology is one of the largest to put the two together.

Researchers studied insurance claims from around 100 million people in the U.S., and used congenital malformations in boys as an indictor for parental exposure to environmental toxins. “Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country. This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong,” study author Andrey Rzhetsky from the University of Chicago said in a statement.

Every 1% increase in malformations corresponded to a 283% increase in autism in the same county.

Image: Pollution, via Shutterstock

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Birth Defects in Washington State Mystify Doctors

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Doctors and public health officials are puzzled by why a cluster of diagnoses of anencephaly, a fatal birth defect in which infants are born missing parts of their brain and skull, has emerged in Washington state. The spate of diagnoses is leading parents and doctors to question how rigorous epidemiologists are being in determining the causes of the defect.  CNN has more:

For months, Andrea Jackman has been expecting a call from the Department of Health.

While pregnant, Jackman lived in the Yakima Valley, an agricultural area in south-central Washington. Her daughter, Olivia, was born in September with spina bifida, which, like anencephaly, is a neural tube defect the state is also tracking. Unlike anencephaly, however, spina bifida is usually not fatal.

She says she’s incredulous and outraged that state researchers haven’t called to ask questions: What did she eat while she was pregnant? Did she spend time near farms that sprayed pesticides? Did she take any herbs or supplements? How about Olivia’s father? Was he exposed to any toxic chemicals?

But no one has called.

Mandy Stahre, the state epidemiologist who’s investigating the cluster of birth defects, says it might be upsetting for mothers to get a call with such questions. Most of the women were pregnant with babies who had anencephaly, and the outcome is always horrible. If a woman didn’t miscarry, she had to make a decision whether to terminate her pregnancy or go ahead and have a baby sure to die soon after birth.

Stahre and her colleagues asked themselves: Would a phone call traumatize these women?

“We have to weigh that heavily. This is a devastating diagnosis, and we know that for a lot of these women they had to make some hard choices,” Stahre says. “We have to weigh how invasive we want to be with these types of interviews.”

Jackman says that attitude is paternalistic and condescending. She says she would do anything to help prevent another family from having a baby with a severe birth defect. State epidemiologists should have made those phone calls a long time ago, she says, since every day that passes, her memory, and those of other mothers, start to fade about what their habits were during pregnancy.

“What are you researching if you haven’t physically called the families to find out?” she asks.

‘Very bad research

Stahre has an answer to Jackman’s question: The state examined the mothers’ medical records, which revealed, among other things, the women’s home addresses.

By the address, epidemiologists can learn a mother’s water source, whether she lives near an agricultural area and whether she took folic acid early in pregnancy, which helps prevent neural tube defects.

“(Medical records) give us a lot of information about all of the known risk factors,” the epidemiologist says.

The state’s rigorous search of the women’s medical records, along with birth and death certificates, found nothing linking the families who had babies with birth defects.

That finding doesn’t surprise Dr. Beate Ritz, who’s done several studies on birth defects.

Ritz, vice chair of the epidemiology department at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, says medical records are notoriously unreliable: One doctor, for example, might note whether a woman smokes, but another doctor might not.

“From a research point of view, this is very bad research,” she says.

She says medical records reveal whether a woman has been prescribed any drugs, or diagnosed with a certain condition, but they don’t contain detailed information about a mother’s diet or possible toxins she might have been exposed to in the environment.

“The data quality on medical records is so low that it’s not really research,” she says.

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Dad’s Diet May Affect Baby’s Health

Monday, December 16th, 2013

New scientific research conducted with mice may have major implications for how fathers think about their health before planning to have a baby.  The study linked nutritional deficiencies in male mice with a higher risk that their offspring would be born with birth defects.  The Washington Post has more:

The findings raise concerns about dads unknowingly passing on harmful traits through molecular markers on the DNA of their sperm.

These epigenetic markers don’t change the genetic information, but rather switch parts of the genome on and off. They are susceptible to environment and diet throughout fetal development, but were thought to be wiped clean before birth. New studies, including the one published online Tuesday in Nature Communications, have revealed that some of them may survive all the way from sperm to baby.

When analyzing the sperm epigenomes of the low-nutrition mice, the researchers found abnormalities in epigenetic markers that affected genes linked to development, neurological and psychological disorders and certain cancers.

“We should be looking carefully at the way a man is living his life,” said study author and reproductive biologist Sarah Kimmins of McGill University. “Environmental exposure is remembered in the developing sperm and transmitted to offspring.”

Since it takes human males about three months to produce fully grown sperm from stem cells, Kimmins speculates that men trying to have children could try cleaning up their diets even temporarily.

“If a man has been living a bad, unhealthy lifestyle, he will not only improve his own health but the health of his offspring,” she said.

Image: Man with healthy food in shopping basket, via Shutterstock

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Rare Birth Defect Doubled in Last Decade

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Gastroschisis–a rare birth defect in which an infant is born with a hole in his or her abdomen–is on the rise in the US, according to a large new study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.  More from Reuters:

“We have a pattern where the prevalence is very much highest among young women and it’s growing more rapidly among that group than any other group,” said Russell Kirby, a professor at the University of South Florida and the lead author of the study.

Kirby’s study could not explain why the birth defect is becoming more common, and gastroschisis itself is not well understood.

The malformation involves an opening next to the belly button, through which the baby’s intestines protrude.

Newborns with gastroschisis require immediate surgery to close the hole and put the organs back in place.

Most babies with gastroschisis survive, but Kirby said some children have problems with growth and development and there is not a lot of research about the long term outcomes for these kids.

By general estimates, the condition is relatively rare, with a rate of 2 to 3 cases per 10,000 live births in the U.S. But in recent years, studies have suggested the defect is being seen more often….

….The increase in gastroschisis primarily affected mothers under age 25, and especially under age 20, whereas those who gave birth in their 30s had no change in their risk of having a baby with the birth defect.

Mothers who had their babies in their early twenties experienced a 5.8 percent increase each year in the risk of having a child born with gastroschisis, Kirby’s group reported in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Among these mothers, the number of babies born with gastroschisis went from 4 out of every 10,000 babies in 1995 to 7 in 10,000 babies in 2005.

Teen mothers saw a 6.8 percent yearly increase in the proportion of babies born with gastroschisis.

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Baby Born with Serious Heart Defect Leaving Hospital

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Audrina Cardenes, a three-month-old Texas baby born with a rare and usually fatal condition called ectopia cordis, in which the child is born with all or part of the heart outside the body, is going home.  Though 90 percent babies born with ectopia cordis die within days or are stillborn, doctors are “optimistic” after Audrina’s surgery to put her heart back into her chest.  More from the New York Daily News:

Two months after her operation to place her heart back inside her chest, the baby is now ready to leave the hospital and go home with her family.

“Audrina is a true fighter and we are hopeful that she will continue to progress,” Audrina’s surgeon, Dr. Charles D. Fraser, said shortly after the risky operation. “I am also hopeful that Audrina’s case marks the beginning of our ability to care for more children diagnosed with ectopia cordis in the future.”

 

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