First birth-defects research center to open in Dallas

DALLAS (AP) _ University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas will soon be home to the first birth defects research center in the nation as part of a March of Dimes effort to prevent and eventually eliminate birth defects.

The center will provide a centralized facility where researchers can share knowledge and practices about birth defects _ which are on the rise in all categories, March of Dimes spokesman Alex Barbieri said. It will be the only research center dedicated solely to seeking cures and remedies for birth defects.

Barbieri said the organization was drawn to Dallas by the research of Dr. Deepac Srivastava, a pediatric cardiologist who has prioritized lowering birth defect.

Such a center is more crucial because of the rise in birth defects, which Barbieri said is largely due to an increase in premature births. Premature babies are particularly prone to such birth defects as cerebral palsy, underdeveloped lungs and blindness, he said. Weak heart capillaries and valves can cause a lifetime of medical problems for premature babies, Barbieri said.

Birth defects such as muscular dystrophy have no known cause.

Even defects that do have known causes, such as spina bifida, are on the rise. Despite educational efforts to encourage women of child-bearing age to take folic acid to prevent spina bifida, it has actually increased in the last 15 years.

Clear dangers such as smoking and drinking also have not ceased. More children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome, for instance, than in the past 20 years, which Barbieri attributes that rise to more teen pregnancies.

“For us, one baby is alarming because our mission is for every baby to be born healthy and get a healthy start in life,” Barbieri said. “I do think it is a dangerous level, especially for something that can be so easily prevented.”

About 1,280 premature babies are born daily worldwide, according to the March of Dimes.

Costs to care for babies with birth defects are “staggering,” Barbieri said. A healthy baby’s hospital stay costs about $4,500, while a premature baby’s cost can be $10,000 to $50,000. With post-hospital care, the cost averages $500,000 for a lifetime.

The $3 million center would largely be funded by private donations, most of them from Texans.

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