About the North Carolina Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention

Each year in North Carolina about 4,000 infants are born with major birth defects.

What factors contribute to having a birth defect?
How can we help families that have been affected?
Can we prevent some birth defects from happening?

To answer these questions, the NC Center brings together a highly interdisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in teratology and dysmorphology, developmental biology, maternal-fetal medicine, perinatal and pharmaco-epidemiology, biostatistics, genetics, environmental health science, and birth defects surveillance. The Center’s research agenda has historically focused on identifying modifiable risk factors for birth defects including maternal diet and health conditions, and occupational and environmental exposures during pregnancy, as well as evaluating the role of genes and gene-environment interactions in the etiology of birth defects. Over the next five years, the team will expand its focus to the relationship between birth defects and infection during pregnancy, as well as prescription medication use during pregnancy.

Established in 2002, the NC Center is a collaboration between the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill, and the Birth Defects Monitoring Program (BDMP) at the North Carolina Division of Public Health in Raleigh. Over 3,400 families in North Carolina participated in the CDC’s National Birth Defects Prevention Study (www.nbdps.org), and the NC Center looks forward to continuing this important research with BD-STEPS

Principal Investigator Dr. Andrew F. Olshan, PhD

Dr. Andrew F. Olshan is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He has an established research record covering genetic, occupational and environmental epidemiology focused specifically on reproduction, birth defects and cancer. As Co-Principal Investigator, Dr. Olshan co-directs the NC Center’s research agenda and oversees all staff and study-related activities.

"It’s truly a privilege to help lead the efforts, nationally and in North Carolina, to uncover the causes of birth defects that will ultimately lead to targeted prevention. Our center includes very talented staff, students, and investigators that work synergistically to collect and analyze large volumes of complex data. Our collaborations with other centers have been especially beneficial. We are grateful to have such enthusiastic participation from North Carolina families."
— Dr. Andrew F. Olshan

Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Tania A. Desrosiers, PhD, MPH

Dr. Desrosiers has over 10 years experience in birth defects epidemiology. Her primary research interest is in modifiable, non-genetic causes of birth defects, with the ultimate goal of prevention through evidence-based translation to clinical and public health practice. As co-Principal Investigator of the NC Center, Dr. Desrosiers co-directs the Center’s research agenda, oversees implementation of BD-STEPS in North Carolina, and collaborates with the CDC and other BD-STEPS Centers on study-wide research and protocol development. Dr. Desrosiers is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and a core faculty member of the Department’s program in Reproductive, Perinatal, and Pediatric Epidemiology.

"The fact that the cause of most cases of birth defects remains unknown is a deep source of motivation to continue this important work. I am especially grateful to the families that contribute their time and personal stories to BD-STEPS. We honor them by doing our very best to produce innovative, interdisciplinary, high-impact research toward our shared goal of understanding why birth defects happen, so that we can prevent more cases in North Carolina and across the world."
— Dr. Tania A. Desrosiers

Former Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Robert E. Meyer, PhD

Dr. Meyer has over 20 years of experience in birth defects surveillance and research, and has published over 100 articles in birth defects epidemiology and maternal and child health. He served as co-Principal Investigator of the North Carolina Center from 2002 to 2018, and was Director of the Birth Defects Monitoring Program at the North Carolina Division of Public Health from 1997 to 2018. For his dedication to research in birth defects, he was honored by his peers with the National Birth Defects Prevention Network’s Godfrey P. Oakley Jr. Award in 2011. Dr. Meyer is currently an Adjunct Professor of Maternal and Child Health at UNC. He remains a critical member of the NC Center through active engagement in research collaborations and mentoring the next generation of birth defects researchers.

Notable Research Findings:

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

Rappazzo KM, Warren JL, Meyer RE, Herring AH, Sanders AP, Brownstein NC, Luben TJ. Maternal residential exposure to agricultural pesticides and birth defects in a 2003 to 2005 North Carolina birth cohort. Birth Defects Research 2016; 106(4): 240–249.

Stingone JA, Luben TJ, Daniels JL, Fuentes M, Richardson DB, Aylsworth AS, Herring AH, Anderka M, Botto L, Correa A, Gilboa SM, Langlois PH, Mosley B, Shaw GM, Siffel C, Olshan AF and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.  Maternal exposure to criteria air pollutants and congenital heart defects in offspring: Results from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Environmental Health Perspectives 2014; 122: 863-872.

Sotres-Alvarez D, Siega-Riz AM, Herring AH, Carmichael SL, Feldkamp ML, Hobbs CA, Olshan AF and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Maternal dietary patterns are associated with risk of neural tube and congenital heart defects.  American Journal of Epidemiolgy 2013; 1;177(11):1279-88.

Desrosiers TA, Herring AH, Shapira SK, Hooiveld M, Luben TJ, Herdt-Losavio ML, Lin S, Olshan AF and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Paternal occupation and birth defects: findings from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2012; Aug; 69(8): 534-542.

Siega-Riz AM, Herring AH, Olshan AF, Smith J, Moore CA and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. The joint effects of maternal prepregnancy [pregravid] body mass index and age on the risk of gastroschisis. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology. 2009 Jan; 23(1): 51-7.


Contact Information:

Project Director: 

Diana Urlaub, MPH

North Carolina Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention (NCCBDRP)