About the Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention

Each year in Arkansas, approximately 1,300 babies are diagnosed with birth defects and more than 100 babies will die because of their defects. The Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention’s mission is to prevent or reduce the occurrence of birth defects and adverse pregnancy outcomes in Arkansas and the United States. The Arkansas Center utilizes the state’s population-based, active surveillance system to identify novel modifiable exposures before and during pregnancy that might reduce the risk of birth defects and stillbirths in Arkansas. The Arkansas Center participated previously in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS) and helped conduct research on the causes and prevention of birth defects.

The Arkansas Center brings specific expertise in studying genetic factors that might increase the risk for birth defects. Its current participation in BD-STEPS provides a unique opportunity to look more closely at genes, mother’s lifestyle, and the interaction between genes and exposures in the mother’s surroundings that might potentially lead to birth defects. This Center is positioned to build on its foundation and continue to identify maternal exposures in early pregnancy that may be amenable to early prevention.

For more information about the Arkansas Center, please go to http://birthdefects.uams.edu/

Principal Investigator Wendy N. Nembhard, PhD, MPH, FACE

Dr. Wendy Nembhard is a perinatal epidemiologist, a tenured Professor and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Fay W Boozman College of Public Health. She is also a tenured Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, UAMS College of Medicine. She is also the Director and Principal Investigator of the CDC-supported Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention.

Dr. Nembhard has more than 25 years of experience conducting population-based birth defects research. Her research interest includes the causes of birth defects – with specific emphasis on congenital heart defects, as well as the long-term outcomes among children with birth defects and etiology of stillbirths. She also conducts research on fetal and infant mortality, and racial/ethnic disparities in perinatal outcomes.

"Birth defects have affected pregnancies and children for centuries, yet despite advances in technology, medicine and general scientific knowledge, the causes for most cases of birth defects that occur remain unknown. BD-STEPS provides us with the opportunity to change that fact by combining information from families who agree to participate in each state to learn more about the causes of birth defects. This is a tremendous opportunity."
— Wendy N. Nembhard

Notable Research Findings:

The following are selected examples of important research publications led by the AR Center. 

Nembhard, W. N., Tang, X., Li, J., MacLeod, S. L., Levy, J., Schaefer, G. B., & Hobbs, C. A. (2018). A parent-of-origin analysis of paternal genetic variants and increased risk of conotruncal heart defects. Am J Med Genet A, 176(3), 609-617. doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.38611

Nembhard, W. N., Tang, X., Hu, Z., MacLeod, S., Stowe, Z., & Webber, D. (2017). Maternal and infant genetic variants, maternal periconceptional use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and risk of congenital heart defects in offspring: population based study. Bmj, 356, j832. doi:10.1136/bmj.j832

Tang, X., Eberhart, J. K., Cleves, M. A., Li, J., Li, M., MacLeod, S., Hobbs, C. A. (2018). PDGFRA gene, maternal binge drinking and obstructive heart defects. Sci Rep, 8(1), 11083. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-29160-9

 Li, M., Li, J., He, Z., Lu, Q., Witte, J. S., Macleod, S. L., Cleves, M. A. (2016). Testing Allele Transmission of an SNP Set Using a Family-Based Generalized Genetic Random Field Method. Genet Epidemiol, 40(4), 341-351. doi:10.1002/gepi.21970

Li, M., Li, J., Wei, C., Lu, Q., Tang, X., Erickson, S. W., Hobbs, C. A. (2016). A Three-Way Interaction among Maternal and Fetal Variants Contributing to Congenital Heart Defects. Ann Hum Genet, 80(1), 20-31. doi:10.1111/ahg.12139



Contact Information:

Principal Investigator:

Wendy N. Nembhard, PhD, MPH, FACE

Director, Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Arkansas Children’s Research Institute


Birth Defects Office: 501-214-2222