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To begin, what is the overarching mission of the University of louisville Birth Defects Center? Has this focus evolved since the Center was first established?

The main goal of the Center is to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of birth defects. This focus has not changed since the inception of the Center nearly 15 years ago.

Why are the mechanisms governing growth and development of the embryo poorly understood?

Notwithstanding the remarkable successes of biomedical research, the frequency of congenital craniofacial anomalies remains distressingly high. Despite an impressive broadening of our understanding of the molecular machinery orchestrating embryonic development, the fundamental mechanisms governing growth and development of the embryo remain poorly defined.

This is due in large measure to the complexity of embryonic development which depends on proper orchestration of genetic and epigenetic signalling as well as environmental input. Nevertheless, significant advances have been achieved in our understanding of the causes and risk factors associated with congenital anomalies.

What are the most profound biomedical research breakthroughs that have been made in recent years?

In the past decade five Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine have had a profound effect on enlarging our understanding of embryonic development. In 2001 the award was given for discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle, while the 2002 award recognised discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death. In recent years the Nobel committee paid tribute to the discovery of RNA interference-gene silencing (2006) and the elucidation of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells (2007). Most recently, the Prize was awarded for the development of in vitro fertilisation (2010).

What are some of the research activities currently underway at the Center?

In brief, some areas of emphasis include, but are not limited to: aetiology of orofacial clefting, specifically cleft palate; neural tube defects (anencephaly, spina bifida); autism research; developmental consequences of prenatal exposures to alcohol and environmental toxicants; and vitamin A metabolism, regulation and role in embryonic heart development.

How have developments both within and outside the Center transformed the care of children?

Biomedical advances are increasingly being made by research teams with the use of interdisciplinary approaches supported by open access to powerful databases and online tools. In the last decade, advances in the biomedical and research arenas - notably in genetics and stem cells - have helped transform the care of children, and have improved both diagnosis and treatment for numerous diseases. These breakthroughs have included advances in newborn screening for inborn errors of metabolism; early diagnosis of primary immunodeficiencies; stem cell therapeutics for childhood neurological diseases; prenatal stem cell transplantation; and improved diagnosis of genetic disease in pre-implantation embryos.

What is the importance 0 databases and online tools to your research? In turn, do you see open access as a positive development?

Quite frankly, I don't see how anyone can conduct contemporary biomedical research without accessing online databases and tools, especially those that involve computational data reduction. The ability to search online for relevant literature and utilise data analysis software has become an essential component of successful research.

As a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE), do you bring different types of researchers together to develop methods to prevent, diagnose and treat birth defects?

The Center offers opportunities for paediatric clinicians as well as basic scientists to interact. The basic science approaches span the full spectrum of embryonic/foetal/postnatal development, from pre-implantation biology to postnatal behavioural/cognitive development.

Has the five-year renewdl of the COBRI: grant facilitated the Center's research?

The renewal has substantially enhanced the research career development and research competitiveness of no less than five junior investigators, and has promoted the development and enhanced the evolution of our Center such that it should be able to successfully compete for independent centre and/or programme project funding.

As Professor and Director, as well as being engaged in a number of external professional activities, how do you manage your time effectively?

This question assumes I manage my time effectively! There has been a recent upsurge of interest in this country in Abraham Lincoln, so something he once said may cast some light on my efforts at time management: "The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone"

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Robert M. Greene, PhD, received his degree in Anatomy / Developmental Biology from the University of Virginia and obtained postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health. As a professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, he conducted NIH funded research into the Genetic and Biochemical Causes of Various Birth Defects, including cleft lip, cleft palate, and neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

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