About the California Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention

California represents approximately 15% of all births in the United States. This year alone, 17,000 babies with birth defects will be born in California, and as many as 2,000 of these babies will die before their first birthday. Discovering causes is our only hope for preventing birth defects and working toward the larger goal of ensuring that every person is born healthy.

The California Center of Excellence is a collaborative partnership among Stanford University School of Medicine and the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program in the Department of Public Health. The Center collects data from women residing in eight counties in the Central Valley. It has received funding from CDC since 1997.

Our research answers why certain racial or ethnic groups and other factors are at higher risk of birth defects.

· Why are Latinx individuals at increased risk of brain and spinal birth defects?

· Why are African-American babies with birth defects more likely to die?

· Why are birth defects more frequent in boys?

· Why are fetuses with birth defects more likely to be born prematurely?

Our research answers questions from parents in California about how to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

· Will stress hurt my baby?

· Will eating certain foods help my baby?

Our research answers questions about environmental exposures that are especially important in California.

· Do exposures to pesticides, contaminated water, wildfires, air pollution, or other environmental contaminants increase the risk of certain birth defects?


Dr. Gary Shaw

Principal Investigator

Gary Shaw, DrPH, is Principal Investigator for the California Center. Dr. Shaw has been conducting research on birth defects for over 20 years and is a recognized leader in birth defects research. He has produced numerous publications on birth defect causes related to diet, obesity, drugs, alcohol, stress, pollution, occupations, and genes. Dr. Shaw is a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Stanford University.

Notable Research Findings

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

Williford EM, Yang W, Howley MM, Ma C, Collins RT, Weber KA, Heinke D, Petersen JM, Agopian AJ, Archer NP, Olshan AF, Williams LA, Browne ML, Shaw GM; National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Factors associated with infant sex and preterm birth status for selected birth defects from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, 1997-2011. Birth Defects Res. 2024 Jan;116(1):e2294.

Carmichael SL, Yang W, Ma C, Desrosiers TA, Weber K, Collins RT, Nestoridi E, Shaw GM; National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Oxidative balance scores and neural crest cell-related congenital anomalies. Birth Defects Res. 2023;115(12):1151-1162.

Weber KA, Yang W, Carmichael SL, Collins RT 2nd, Luben TJ, Desrosiers TA, Insaf TZ, Le MT, Evans SP, Romitti PA, Yazdy MM, Nembhard WN, Shaw GM; National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Assessing associations between residential proximity to greenspace and birth defects in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Environ Res. 2023 Jan 1;216(Pt 3):114760.

Weber KA, Yang W, Carmichael SL, Padula AM, Shaw GM. A machine learning approach to investigate potential risk factors for gastroschisis in California. Birth Defects Res. 2019;111(4):212-221.

Weber KA, Yang W, Lupo PJ, Dukhovny S, Yazdy MM, Lin AE, Van Bennekom CM, Mitchell AA, Shaw GM. An application of data mining to identify potential risk factors for anophthalmia and microphthalmia. Ped Perinatol Epidemiol 2018;32(6):545-555.

Padula AM, Yang W, Schultz K, Lee C, Lurmann F, Hammond SK, Shaw GM. Genetic variation in biotransformation enzymes, air pollution exposures, and risk of spina bifida. Am J Med Genet 2018;176:1055-90.

Weber KA, Yang W, Carmichael SL, Shaw GM. Nutrient intake in women before conception and risks of anophthalmia and microphthalmia in their offspring. Birth Def Res 2018;110(10):863-870 Carmichael SL, Ma C, Tinker S, Shaw GM. Maternal stressors and social support and risks for delivering babies with gastroschisis or hypospadias Am J Epidemiol 2017;185(12):1240-1246. Padula AM, Yang W, Carmichael SL, Lurmann F, Balmes J, Hammond K, Shaw GM. Air pollution, neighborhood acculturation factors and neural tube defects among Hispanic women in California. Birth Def Res A 2017;109:403-422.