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/


Wendy N. Nembhard, PhD, MPH, FACE

Principal Investigator

Wendy Nembhard, MPH, PhD is the current Principal Investigator (PI) and the Director of the Arkansas Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Dr. Nembhard is also a tenured Professor and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Fay W Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and a tenured Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, UAMS College of Medicine. She joined the Center as a Co-Investigator in 2014 and became the Center Director in 2017. She has more than 25 years of experience in birth defects research, including serving as the Scientific Director of the Arkansas Reproductive Health Monitoring System, the state’s birth defects registry from 2014 until 2018. Her research interests focus on the etiology of and long term-outcomes for children and adults with birth defects with a particular interest in congenital heart defects. As PI and Director, she oversees the analyses and dissemination of NBDPS data, storage and analyses of the biological samples, participation in the BD-STEPS, and the research activities of the Center.

Notable Research Findings

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

Patel J, Politis MD, Howley MM, Browne ML, Bolin EH, Ailes EC, Johnson CY, Magann E, Nembhard WN, and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Fever and Antibiotic Use in Maternal Urinary Tract Infections during Pregnancy and Risk of Congenital Heart Defects: Findings from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Birth Defects Res. 2023 Dec 13. doi: 10.1002/bdr2.2281. Online ahead of print. [PMID: 38093546]

Huang M, Lyu C, Liu N, Nembhard WN, Witte J, Hobbs CA, and Li M. (2023) A Gene-based Association Test of Interactions for Maternal-fetal Genotypes Identifies Genes Associated with Non-syndromic

Congenital Heart Defects. Genet Epidemiol 2023 Jun 21. doi: 10.1002/gepi.22533. Online ahead of print. [PMID: 37341229]

Weber KA, Yang W, Carmichael SL, Collins II RT, Luben TJ, Desrosiers TA, Insaf TZ, Le MT, Pruitt Evans S, Romitti PA, Yazdy MM, Nembhard WN, Shaw GM, and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Assessing associations between residential proximity to greenspace and birth defects in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Environ Health Sci Nov 7;216(Pt 3):114760. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2022.114760. Online ahead of print. [PMID: 36356662]

Richard MA, Patel J, Benjamin RH, +Bircan E, Canon SJ, Marengo LK, Canfield MA, Agopian AJ, Lupo PJ, and Nembhard WN. Prevalence and Clustering of Congenital Heart Defects among Boys with Hypospadias (2022) JAMA Open Network 2022 Jul 1;5(7):e2224152. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.24152. [PMID: 35900762]

Rashkin SR, Cleves M, Shaw GM, Nembhard WN, Nestoridi E, Jenkins MM, Romitti PA, Lou XY, Browne ML, Mitchell LE, Olshan AF, Lomangino K, Bhattacharyya S, Witte JS, Hobbs CA and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. A genome-wide association study of obstructive heart defects among participants in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (2022) Am J Med Gen A. 2022 Apr 22. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.62759. Online ahead of print. [PMID: 35451555]

Hsu PC, Maity S, +Patel J, Lupo PJ, and Nembhard WN. (2022) Metabolomics Signatures among Mothers with a Congenital Heart Defect-Affected Pregnancy. Metabolites 2022, Jan 21;12(2). https://doi.org/10.3390/metabo12020100. [PMID: 35208175; PMCID: PMC8877777]

Bolin EH, Gokun Y, Romitti PA, Tinker SC, Summers AD, Roberson PK, Hobbs CA, Malik S, Botto LD, Nembhard WN and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. (2021) Maternal Smoking and Congenital Heart Defects, National Birth Defects Prevention Study, 1997-2011. J Pediatrics 2022 Jan;240:79-86.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2021.09.005. Epub 2021 Sep 8. [PMID: 34508749]

Patel J, Nembhard WN, +Politis MD, Rocheleau CM, Langlois PH, Shaw GM, Romitti PA, Gilboa SM, Desrosiers TA, Insaf T, Lupo PJ and The National Birth Defects Prevention Study. (2020) Maternal Occupational Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and the Risk of Isolated Congenital Heart Defects among Offspring. Environ Res. 2020 Jul;186:109550. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.109550. Epub 2020 Apr 18. [PMID: 32335433]

Tang X, Eberhart JK, Cleves MA, Jingyun L, MacLeod S, Nembhard WN and Hobbs CA. (2018) PDGFRA gene, maternal binge drinking and obstructive heart defects. Nature: Science Reports 2018 Jul 23;8(1):11083. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-29160-9 [PMID: 30038270; PMCID: PMC6056529]

Nembhard WN, Tang X, Li J, MacLeod S, +Levy J, Schaefer GB, Hobbs CA and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. (2018) Do Paternal Genetic Variants Increase Risk of Conotruncal Heart Defects in their Children? A Parent-Of-Origin Analysis Am J Med Gen 2018 Feb 5. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.38611. [Epub ahead of print] [PMID: 29399948; PMCID: PMC5881110]

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.j8