About the North Carolina Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention

Each year in North Carolina more than 3,500 infants are born with major birth defects. Despite recent advances, the causes of most birth defects are still unknown.  The North Carolina Center carries out birth defects research in 33 counties of central North Carolina. Children with birth defects are selected through a tracking program called the North Carolina Birth Defects Monitoring Program (NCBDMP) that has been run by the state since 1995.

The North Carolina Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention is composed of two collaborating institutions: (1) the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, and (2) the North Carolina Birth Defects Monitoring Program (NCBDMP) at the State Center for Health Statistics, Division of Public Health, in Raleigh. The North Carolina Center works to identify maternal exposures during early pregnancy that may lead to future public health prevention efforts to reduce the incidence of major birth defects.  For example, the North Carolina Center has studied the impact of nutrition (including diet and obesity) and environment such as air pollution and drinking water contamination. For the new BD-STEPS study, their research will focus on (1) modifiable risk factors for birth defects during pregnancy including diet, obesity, physical activity, occupation and environmental exposures; (2) the role of genes and gene-environment interactions, and (3) methods development to advance the field of birth defects epidemiology.

Principal Investigator Dr. Andrew F. Olshan, PhD

Dr. Andrew F. Olshan is Professor and Chair of 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. He was among the first researchers to comprehensively explore paternal occupation as a risk factor for birth defects. As its overall Principal Investigator, Dr. Olshan directs the NC Center’s research agenda and oversees all staff and study-related activities. He also serves in key center-wide roles, for example, as Chair of the NBDPS Coordinating Council (January 2008 to 2009), Chair of the Data Sharing Committee (2004-2005) and Chair of the Genetic Analysis Working Group (2005 – present).

"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. Robert E. Meyer, PhD

Robert E. Meyer is Director of the NC Birth Defects Monitoring Program (NCBDMP) and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at UNC. He has an established publication record in birth defects epidemiology and maternal and child health. Dr. Meyer has over 20 years of experience in birth defects surveillance at the state level, and was honored in 2011 by his peers with the National Birth Defects Prevention Network’s Godfrey P. Oakley Jr. Award. He is currently collaborating with the UNC and Duke craniofacial centers on a study to examine educational achievement and other outcomes among school-age children born with facial clefts, and has recently collaborated with Massachusetts and New York on a multi-state epidemiologic study of risk factors for club foot. As Co-Principal Investigator, he oversees the clinical data collection activities of the NC Center and participates in the design and conduct of studies using NBDPS and BD-STEPS data. He also serves in key center-wide roles, for example, as Chair of the Data Sharing Committee (January – June 2006) and Data Sharing Editor (January – June 2007) and as lead of the Environmental Work Group.

Notable Research Findings:

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

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 Epidemiology 2013; Jun 1;177(11):1279-88.

Siega-Riz AM, Herring AH, Olshan AF, Smith J, Moore CA; NBDPS. The Joint Effects of Maternal Pregravid Body Mass Index and Age on the Risk of Gastroschisis. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 2009; 23(1):51-7.

Slickers J, Olshan AF, Siega-Riz AM, Honein MA, Aylsworth AS; NBDPS. Maternal body mass index and lifestyle exposures and the risk of bilateral renal agenesis or hypoplasia. American Journal of Epidemiology 2008; 168(11):1259-67.

Desrosiers TA, Lawson CC, Meyer RE, Richardson DB, Daniels JL, Waters MA, van Wijngaarden E, Langlois PH, Romitti PA, Correa A, Olshan AF; NBDPS.  Maternal occupational exposure to organic solvents during early pregnancy and risks of neural tube defects and orofacial clefts. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2012; 69(7):493-9.

Maclehose RF, Olshan AF, Herring AH, Honein MA, Shaw GM, Romitti PA; NBDPS. Bayesian methods for misclassification correction: An example from birth defects epidemiology. Epidemiology 2009; 20(1):27-35.


Contact Information:

Project Director: 

Alison Woomert, PhD

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