Medical research looks for causes of cleft

We’re currently conducting medical research to understand why cleft happens. This project, known as the International Family Study (IFS), is led by our academic partners at the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

The research uses genetic analysis as well as maternal and paternal questionnaires on environmental exposures and lifestyle habits. More than 15,000 individual saliva samples from a vast array of ethnicities and more than 7,000 families have been collected.

The IFS study is our opportunity to promote scientific research in heavily understudied populations and ultimately highlight how we can improve cleft care for patients all around the world.

Lorraine before cleft surgery. Photo: Jessica Brandi Lifland

We all have different genetic predispositions, and that means different exposures can affect us based on our genes. The same environmental exposure can affect two people differently over time because each person has a different genetic makeup.

Freddy Brindopke, Project Manager, International Family Study

Cleft research in action

Read how our research is changing lives across the world and how we use this knowledge to improve care for patients.

The International Family Study is pioneering research into the causes of cleft working in partnership with the University of Southern California.
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Loraine born with cleft lip in the Philippines
Whether travelling from surrounding villages or distant islands, families in the Philippines seeking cleft surgeries for their children must sacrifice precious time and resources to reach Operation Smile medical programme sites.
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Loraine and her family. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

When you’re studying the genetic component as a cause of cleft lip and palate, it’s very helpful to look at a family, because then you can compare the family members to each other.

Christine Stafford, Research Coordinator, California and Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles

Genetics or environment?

Lorraine’s family in the Philippines has an usually high number of cleft cases. Her father, many of his sisters and their children were all born with cleft conditions, which caught the interest of the IFS researchers during an Operation Smile surgical programme at the Cebu Medical Centre.

Loraine with dad, before cleft surgery: Jessica Brandi Lifland

Cleft questions answered

People often ask why so many babies are born with a cleft lip or palate and want to understand the causes. We know already that gentics play a big part, but poor nutrition and exposure to harmful environmental substances can also affect the healthy development of a baby. Our medical research enables us to find vital answers to these common questions and hopefully one day, prevent cleft conditions from happening in the first place.

Patients wait for their health checks in Tamatave