Program Highlights

The 2018 Program Committee of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, partnering with the Developmental Neurotoxicology Society (DNTS) has arranged for an outstanding and expansive scientific program. The program for the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention Annual Meeting includes education courses, workshops, cutting-edge scientific symposia, special lectures, and a student and postdoctoral workshop. There are also platform sessions and three poster sessions providing opportunities for open research communications and updates on the latest cutting-edge research. The sessions address newer concepts in the field and are likely to generate lively interaction.

As you can see, the 2018 program represents the great strengths of our multidisciplinary Society and presents something for everyone. We invite you to experience the excitement in Clearwater!

Education Courses

Separate registration is required for the Education Course and the Lunch and Learn Mini Course, so please register early!

Session I

Embryology and Development of Central Nervous System: From Prenatal Period to Adolescence

Development of the central nervous system (CNS) is a complex process that extends from early embryonic period into the postnatal period. This course will begin with an overview on the embryology and morphological development of this system in human covering both pre- and post-natal periods. Nervous functions develop as the CNS matures and forms proper connections, so methodology on assessment of these functions in human and animals will be presented, which will be followed by a species comparison of the CNS development. Developing CNS is also vulnerable to disruption because of its complex and rapid developmental process, and the morning session will wrap up with an overview on pathways leading to adverse outcomes.

Session 2

Assessment and Management of Developmental Effects on the Central Nervous System: From the Molecular Level to the Clinical Setting

Central nervous system (CNS) anomalies are common and often serious, and this course will focus on the understanding, diagnosis, and management of developmental CNS effects. The afternoon will begin at the molecular level with a review of the importance of the extracellular microenvironment for cell communication and development of the CNS. This will be followed by an overview of current in vitro and in vivo methodologies, and disease models for preclinical assessment of developmental neurotoxicity. The session will conclude with a discussion on how clinical evaluation can be done by using methodologies such as imaging, connectomics and behavioral testing, and management of developmental CNS effects.

Lunch and Learn Mini Course

Role and Function of Placenta in Pregnancy

The placenta sits in between the maternal and fetal vasculatures and plays an important role in the maintenance of pregnancy and prenatal development. The first speaker will give an overview of the development and function of placenta in human, with a comparison of these processes between species commonly used in preclinical studies. Disruption of placenta functions can lead to loss of pregnancy or adverse outcomes, and the second speaker will discuss in vivo, in vitro and in silico models to better understand its role, and improve our ability to predict and treat placenta-related pregnancy complications.

Special Lectures

Josef Warkany Lecture

This award honors Josef Warkany, one of the founding members of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention and recognizes a scientist who has significantly contributed to the field of teratology during his/her career. This year’s lecture will be presented by John M. DeSesso, Exponent on Sunday, June 24 at 8:15 am.

F. Clarke Fraser New Investigator Award

This award honors F. Clarke Fraser, one of the founding members of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, for his many contributions to the field of developmental toxicology. The recipient will give a presentation related to his/her research. It is intended that the presentation will serve as a demonstration to pre- and postdoctoral students of the development of an independent career in birth defects research.

James G. Wilson Publication Award

This annual award is presented in recognition of the best paper published in the journal Birth Defects Research and honors a founding member of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention.

Patricia Rodier Mid-Career Award for Research and Mentoring

This award honors the legacy of Dr. Patricia Rodier, a past President of the Developmental Neurotoxicology Society and a Council member of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention. The award is presented during the annual joint meeting of the Developmental Neurotoxicology Society and Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention. The awardee will give a presentation related to his/her research at a jointly-sponsored session at the annual meetings. It is intended that the presentation will serve as a demonstration of independent mid-career research in neurobehavioral teratology, birth defects, or other related fields.

Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention and European Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention Exchange Lecture: Are We Ready for Alternative Testing?

Manon Beekhuijzen, Nicole Kleinstreuer
Over the past several decades extensive research has been done into alternative test methods, and this field continues to be the fastest growing sector in toxicology. This revolution in safety testing addresses both refined in vivo approaches as well as the search for animal-free alternative (in silico and in vitro) methods. The objectives of this research are three-fold: 1) implementation of the 3R principles to reduce, refine, and replace animal testing, 2) reduce cost and testing time, and 3) improve human relevance/extrapolation by achieving more in-depth mechanistic understanding of the nature of toxicity at the molecular, cellular, and organ level. Additionally, robust alternative assays based on human biological material would circumvent the need for interspecies extrapolation. As described by the National Research Council (NRC) report “Toxicity testing is approaching a scientific pivot point. It is poised to take advantage of the revolutions in biology and biotechnology”. Advances in toxicogenomics, bioinformatics, systems biology, epigenetics, and computational toxicology could transform toxicity testing from a system based on whole-animal testing to one relying primarily on in vitro methods that evaluate changes in biologic processes using cells, cell lines, or cellular components, preferably of human origin. From one perspective, developmental and reproductive toxicity (DART) testing is far from achieving this paradigm shift, and will need many years before these changes might be fully implemented in the regulatory arena. To enable this, we need to reorient our thinking to be focused on human-relevant science rather than animal savings or replacement. This requires developing integrated testing strategies with assays that are targeted towards human biology, covering all the mechanisms of human developmental toxicity (e.g. vascular disruption, receptor-mediated, folate regulation). This type of scientific paradigm shift will ultimately produce testing strategies that are more protective of human health than the animal models. However, in the meantime, we are ready to use stem cells, computational models, zebrafish, and other platforms for chemical prioritization and product development.

Robert L. Brent Lecture—Teratogen Update

This lecture recognizes Robert L. Brent’s contributions to the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention and particularly to the implementation of the “Teratogen Update.” The purpose of the Robert L. Brent Lecture is to facilitate discussion of current hot topics in teratogen research during the Annual Meeting. The 2018 Robert L. Brent Lecture will be presented on Tuesday, June 26 at 8:00 am by Robert L. Clark, Artemis Pharmaceutical Research.

Narsingh Agnish Fellow Lecture

This Fellowship was established to recognize Dr. Narsingh Agnish's contributions to the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, and particularly to the implementation of the Education Course. The fellowship is awarded to a long-standing member of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention who has made a major contribution to education in the field of teratology or a related discipline. The 2018 Narsingh Agnish Fellow Lecture will be presented by Anthony R. Scialli, Scialli Consulting LLC on Monday, June 25 at 1:30 pm.

Continuing Medical Education


Organotypic Culture Models (OCMs) and Microphysiological Systems (MPS) for Human Development: New Platforms for Mechanistic Evaluation of Developmental Toxicity Symposium

There are more than 85,000 chemicals in commerce of which only a small fraction have information on developmental hazard. The current animal-based testing paradigm does not have the throughput to scale this testing problem for children’s environmental health protection. The National Academy of Sciences 2007 report on “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century” (Tox21) advocated the need for newer approaches to evaluate chemical safety that draw from the latest advances in science and technology to enable testing in a higher-throughput manner. Significant advances in the genome sciences, in automated high-throughput screening (HTS), and in alternative methods for testing now enable rapid profiling of chemical-biology in a more quantitative, mechanism-based manner than traditional animal-based methods. A key issue is bridging the transition from historical approaches to Tox21 implementation relative to risk assessment and regulatory decision-making for matters pertaining to developmental health and the reproductive cycle. A major concept to be explored in this symposium is the extent to which human cell-based systems that have been synthetically engineered to recapitulate critical developmental events can be used as an intermediate platform between HTS assays and apical endpoints in animal testing.

Assessing the Lifelong Impacts of Prenatal and Early-Life Exposure to Air Pollution Symposium (Joint with DNTS)

Considerable evidence has emerged in recent years from human epidemiological studies and complementary animal studies suggesting that prenatal and early life exposure to air pollution can have lifelong impacts on multiple organ systems, including the developing brain. This session will review data collected from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study and the California Birth Defects Registry regarding common air pollutants and their effects on neural tube defects, congenital heart defects and other common birth defects. Traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) has been associated with adverse effects on the immune system, lung development, and brain function. Speakers will offer insights into various exposures including diesel exhaust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, particulates, and ozone. Potential mechanisms of developmental and neurotoxicity will be explored with a special emphasis on vulnerable populations and genetic susceptibility.

Application of New Genomic Technologies in the Understanding of Birth Defects Symposium

Genomic sequencing has revolutionized our understanding of the causes of birth defects. Major genetic factors are now known to cause more than half of some kinds of birth defects, like severe intellectual disability, and more than 6,000 different conditions caused by mutations of a single gene or gene pair have been recognized. In this symposium, we will review the current status of genome-wide sequencing as a diagnostic test for genetic causes of birth defects and discuss the limitations of current sequencing and analysis technologies. We will also consider the value and limitations of chromosomal microarray analysis—a genomic technology that has replaced karyotyping as the standard clinical test for chromosomal imbalance—and describe some newer sequence-based technologies that appear to provide much greater sensitivity and specificity for this purpose. Next, we will review the evidence that splicing variants are an important but often overlooked class of mutations and describe genomic techniques that can be used to find such variants. There is increasing evidence of the importance of non-coding (i.e., nongenic) DNA in the regulation of development, and we will discuss how to identify mutations in noncoding regions of the genome and how to demonstrate their pathogenic nature. Finally, we will consider the importance and challenges of scientists and clinicians openly sharing data for the identification of rare genetic causes of birth defects.

Public Affairs Symposium: Infectious Diseases during Pregnancy and Sequelae for the Mother and Baby

Infections during pregnancy are associated with negative outcomes such as higher viremia, increased disease severity and other complications, and are a common cause of mortality in pregnant women. Vertical transmission of infectious agents, such as Zika (ZIKV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) during pregnancy remains a public health problem, associated with dire outcomes for the neonate. The sequelae of viral transmission to the fetus can vary in severity from fetal mortality, neurological structural malformations such as microcephaly, neurodevelopmental delay, to post-natal complications and failure to thrive. The symposium will focus on several viral infections of relevance during pregnancy, and discuss strategies for prevention and treatment for the benefit of the mother and her baby.

Opiates: Impact on Pregnancy and Child Development Symposium (Joint with DNTS)

This session will introduce the use of opioid drugs and opioid epidemic, particularly in children/teenager and pregnant women, treatment options for opioid overdose or opioid use disorder, and science underlying the opioid neurodevelopmental effects.

The Teratology of Autism: An Update and Understanding from Different Perspectives Symposium (Joint with DNTS)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been estimated to occur at a rate of 1 in 68 children, and often co-occurs with other developmental, psychiatric, neurologic, chromosomal, and genetic diagnoses. There is no question that ASD has an embryological origin, however identifying teratogens or genes that cause a majority of the cases has remained elusive. To better understand the etiologies of ASD we need to look beyond just the clinical diagnosis. This symposium will review clinical presentation of ASD, and how maternal behavioral health, placental development and animal models can help scientists better understand the embryological origins of ASD.

Factors Causing Neural Tube Defects Symposium

There have been sessions on neural tube defects (NTD)s at the previous meetings, but these sessions were focused more towards genetic factors involved in the NTDs, except maternal diabetes-induced NTDs. Although the genetic factors causing NTDs are extremely important, mechanisms underlying nongenetic factors causing NTDs have not been extensively presented at the meetings. The proposed session will provide valuable information and insights to teratologists.

Epigenetic Effects of Environmental Exposures during Pregnancy Symposium

Environmental exposures, to chemicals, drugs, diet, or stress, may induce "stably heritable” changes in gene expression in the absence of effects on the genome. This epigenetic regulation of gene expression is critical to the embryo; it controls the development of all organ systems, including the brain and reproductive tissues. DNA methylation, posttranslational histone modifications, and non-coding RNAs all play a role in epigenetic inheritance. Speakers in this symposium will focus on the role of DNA methylation, one of the most studied epigenetic marks, in linking environmental exposures to a wide range of progeny outcomes.

Rare Childhood Diseases and Unmet Medical Needs: The Hope of Innovative Therapies Symposium

Rare diseases, often defined as orphan diseases, are those that affect only a small percentage of the population. These diseases have grown in significance and prominence over the years as more have been discovered, regulatory changes have made development of therapies for these diseases economically feasible, and technologies to better identify and potentially correct the in-borne errors are now possible. The affected patient population is mostly children who suffer from debilitating or life-threatening genetic diseases that are difficult to diagnose and currently have little hope of specific or appropriate treatment options, only supportive care. Most of these diseases manifest within several months of birth, and with the lack of true treatment options, each child requires constant and expensive care with little hope of true therapy. This symposium will focus on advances in drug development for rare childhood diseases and how new therapies and treatments would not be possible without the fundamental scientific knowledge gained through basic research, as well as the future of rare disease research and how further advances are possible through the cooperation of scientists, clinicians, and patient advocates.

March of Dimes Symposium
Measuring Success in Prevention of Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes

Prevention of birth defects is central to the mission of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention. Understanding the causes of birth defects is necessary for their prevention, but this is not enough—effective public health interventions are also required. This symposium will review several different kinds of interventions that have been shown to be effective in preventing premature delivery or birth defects. We will also consider how these efforts can be broadened and enhanced in the future so that a larger proportion of babies can be born healthy and without birth defects.

Changing Susceptibilities throughout Embryofetal Development Symposium

As the embryo/fetus develops over a nine-month period and during the neonatal period, its susceptibility towards exposures to drugs, chemicals, or pathogens changes. However, the exact timing and mechanisms of these changes are not well known resulting in a lack of knowledge of when treatments might be safe for pregnant women or when interventions might be needed to protect the developing fetus from unintentional exposures. This symposium will review the current knowledge and future needs for changing susceptibilities in the developing blood brain barrier, infections during pregnancy, developing gastro-intestinal system and changes in the developing placenta. There will be a short introductory talk to introduce the topic and give general information on the state of our knowledge. This will be followed by four talks on specific examples of changing susceptibilities in the embryo/fetus and what needs to be done to further our knowledge. The overall learning objective is to understand the problems/challenges in changes in susceptibility to environmental chemicals and drugs in the developing embryo/fetus/neonate.

Wiley Symposium: Evaluating the Developmental Reproductive Effects of Botanical Supplements

Approximately 18% of adults in the US report the use of natural products, including botanical dietary supplements. Many diverse botanical products are marketed for their purported support of reproductive health, such as ginger for the treatment of nausea during pregnancy. There is often a public perception that “natural” products (i.e., derived from plants or fungi) are safer than pharmaceuticals. However, there is often inadequate data to support the safety of these products, especially during pregnancy. There are many factors that raise concerns about potential reproductive and developmental effects of botanical dietary supplements and natural medicines. Several plant or fungi constituents have well-characterized endocrine activity, such as genistein from soy and the mycotoxin zearalenone. In addition to these biologically-active constituents, some traditional medicines (e.g., Ayurvedics) may contain potentially hazardous ingredients such as metals (e.g., lead). A challenge in characterizing potential reproductive and developmental effects of botanical dietary supplements is that they are complex mixtures with compositions that can vary significantly depending on source material and manufacturing processes. Therefore, inconsistent results in animal studies of toxicity, or clinical trials for efficacy, can be expected based on differences in product composition. Finally, botanical dietary supplements are regulated under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Safety Act, and treats botanical ingredients that were on the market prior to its passage as food, which is assumed to be safe. Instead of requiring pre-market safety assessments, there is a reliance on adverse effect reporting, which is particularly problematic for identifying reproductive and developmental consequences that can manifest years after exposure. This symposium will address different aspects of evaluating the potential reproductive and developmental effects of botanical dietary supplements. Speaker topics include: (1) the prevalence of use of botanical dietary supplements during pregnancy and the sources that recommend them to pregnant women; (2) an update on how these supplements with little safety data during pregnancy are currently being addressed by the risk assessment and regulatory community with a case study of Ayurvedics; (3) case studies utilizing various models for identifying and characterizing the developmental and reproductive effects of botanical dietary supplements; and (4) screening methods for rapid identification of reproductive and developmental toxicity of botanicals (e.g., receptor binding assays). This symposium will present a multi-faceted perspective of the evaluation of reproductive and developmental endpoints associated with exposure to natural dietary supplements and traditional medicines, which will help guide future research and inform public health decisions on this important topic.

HESI Symposium: Neonatal Pediatric Drug Development: From Bench to Bedside

Ninety percent of neonatal intensive care unit drugs (NICU) are used off label, thus resulting in increased adverse drug effects and medical errors. Recent research has indicated that a little as 7% of medicines studied in pediatrics were studies in neonates, and these drugs are rarely ever used in the NICU. It’s clear that priorities of clinician, community, academicians, researchers, regulators, and industry are not well aligned. This session aims to bridge the gap between these sectors regarding the uniqueness nature of the neonate population, shedding light on the state of the science of neonatal disease, and where nonclinical models can inform and improve the treatment of these diseases.


Current Topics and Updates for Pregnancy Registries Workshop

The session will address current topics and updates for pregnancy registries including issues of enrollment timing, comparison prevalence rates, recruitment strategies, inclusion of minor malformations, comparison group issues, and database vs. registry studies.

Translational Impact in Birth Defects Research Workshop

This session will showcase examples where multidisciplinary research has come together to further our understanding of mechanisms, and impact diagnosis and/or clinical practice in birth defects.

When Does the Presence of Medication in Mothers Milk Become a Risk to the Child Workshop

For the majority of therapeutic drugs, there is a lack of adequate data to inform women and their health care providers about the risk of a drug when used during lactation, and relying on inadequate data to inform about the risk is not appropriate. This section will discuss the physiology of the developing/growing infant and how that impacts the determination of potential risk from lactational exposure; underlying pharmacologic and pharmacokinetic principles will also be discussed. The second speaker will discuss the conduct of clinical lactation studies and how data acquired can be used to determine potential risk to the nursing infant or child. A panel discussion will follow to address the challenges of data collection and risk interpretation.

Building a Professional Scientific Presence Using Social Media Workshop

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are emerging resources for networking and establishing an online professional identity within the scientific community. By creating and maintaining professional profiles, you can connect with potential employers, highlight your skills and experiences, and build a professional brand that can enhance your scientific reputation. This professional development workshop is recommended for anyone interested in learning how to craft a positive and effective professional profile, how to promote your brand, how to develop a network of followers with common interests, and how to stay on top of your social media game for professional purposes.

Special Events


The Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention is pleased to offer a venue for companies who are active in the field of teratology to meet with the Annual Meeting attendees. Exhibitors will be on hand to discuss how their products and services can help you achieve your research and professional goals. Plan to visit the exhibitors and learn more about their products and services during the Welcome Reception and both poster sessions.

Poster Sessions

Attendees present their abstracts during the poster sessions of the meeting. The poster sessions provide a relaxed atmosphere to interact with both trainees and established scientists while viewing the latest birth defects research. Poster Session 1 will take place on during the Welcome Reception on Sunday, June 24, 2018 from 6:00 pm until 7:30 pm and Poster Session 2 will take place on Monday, June 25, 2018 from 5:30 pm until 7:00 pm. Both of these poster sessions will be held jointly with DNTS and will include posters from both Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention and DNTS attendees. Poster Session 3 will take place on Tuesday June 26, 2018 from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm and will include posters from Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention attendees.

Warkany Tea

This event honors Josef Warkany, one of the founders of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention and one of the first researchers to show that factors in the environment could cause birth defects. Dr. Warkany helped to develop guidelines for the field of teratology, the study of birth defects. The Warkany Tea provides and place and time for Annual Meeting attendees to network and discuss their research, the foundation of the Society.

Closing Celebration

Once the scientific sessions have ended, it is time to celebrate the exchange of scientific ideas and enjoy both new and old friendships formed at the Annual Meeting.

Each Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention attendee receives a ticket to the Closing Celebration with their meeting registration. The tickets are nontransferable. Additional tickets can be purchased at the registration desk for guests. Badges and celebration tickets are required to attend this event.