Orofacial clefts are one of the most common birth defects in the U.S., affecting more than 7,000 babies each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Orofacial clefts, along with tooth decay, pose significant public health burdens including potentially high costs of treatment for those affected and negative impact on quality of life.
“The causes of dental caries, or tooth decay, and orofacial clefts have been studied quite extensively and we know that genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of these two issues,” explains Dr. Nianjun Liu, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. “We need more research, however, into the genetic variants causing dental caries and orofacial clefts, and then translating this knowledge into clinical practice to help patients.”
Liu says that the lack of powerful statistical methods had impeded genetic research of complex diseases such as dental caries and orofacial clefts. With a nearly $500,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, he hopes to change this.
Over the next two years, Dr. Liu will work to develop new statistical methods to facilitate the identification of new genetic variants that contribute to the development of dental caries and orofacial clefts. In addition, he will develop and validate new models to predict the risk of these two conditions.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve our understanding of what leads to the development of these disorders and use these findings to improve clinical practice,” says Dr. Liu. “With this study specifically, I hope we’ll have new and powerful statistical models that will allow us to identify new genetic variants that underpin dental caries and orofacial clefts, and to predict the risk for developing these disorders.”
Dr. Liu began work on this grant-funded project in September 2016 and will continue his analysis and research through August 2018.