Program Highlights

The 2019 Program Committee of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, partnering with the Developmental Neurotoxicology Society (DNTS) and the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) 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 two 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.

Education Courses

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

Session I

The Embryology and Teratology of the Reproductive System

The male and female reproductive systems begin embryological development along a common pathway that diverges in humans around the sixth week of gestation. Full maturation of these systems, however, is not complete until puberty. This course will begin with an overview of the normal and abnormal prenatal development of the reproductive system. This lecture will be followed by separate talks discussing the postnatal development of the male and female reproductive systems. The session will wrap up with an overview of how reproductive system abnormalities are managed in clinical practice.

Session 2

The Principles of Teratology

This course will focus on the principles of teratology and their application. Topics addressed will include the timeline of important events in embryo-fetal development across species; direct and indirect causes of developmental toxicity, including those of maternal, fetal, and placental origin; the common pathways and mechanisms by which teratogens may act; how developmental toxicants are typically detected through studies conducted in animals; and how epidemiological studies contribute to the detection of potential teratogens.

Lunch and Learn Mini Course

Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs)

An Adverse Outcome Pathway, or AOP, is a conceptual framework by which existing knowledge concerning toxicological perturbations at the molecular, cellular and organ levels can be linked to adverse outcomes observed in individual organisms and populations. The purpose of this mini-course is to provide an introduction to AOPs, to explain how they can be applied in the study of developmental toxicology, and to further explore the AOP framework for specific developmental outcomes.

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 on Sunday, June 23 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.

Agnish Fellowship

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.

Robert L. Brent Lecture: Teratogen Update

This lecture is presented to facilitate the discussion of new and old teratogens during the Annual Meeting.

Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention and European Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention Exchange Lecture

A crisis of reproducibility has been identified in the body of studies that we rely on for determining hazard and risk, and for regulatory decision-making. There are many potential legitimate biological sources for differences in study outcomes, despite best efforts to minimize sources of variability. This Exchange Lecture will explore some of the unique issues that can affect developmental and reproductive study results. The speakers will also address issues of quality, power, uncertainty, transparency, and sometimes even integrity, as they affect study design, conduct, and reporting.


Perinatal Choline Supplementation and Risk of Neurodevelopmental Disorders Symposium
(Joint with DNTS)

The goal of this symposium is to present the latest research on the relationship between supplementation with the methyl donor choline during pregnancy or postnatally on the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. The first speaker will provide an introductory overview on the significance of choline supplementation during pregnancy on infant brain development. Speaker two will discuss results of an animal study giving choline supplementation in a mouse model of autism and showing improved social interaction and anxiety. Speaker three will give an overview of the animal literature showing that choline supplementation can reduce the negative impact of alcohol use during pregnancy and provide an update on clinical trials examining the impact of maternal choline and micronutrient supplementation on neurodevelopmental outcomes in children with FASD and choline supplementation trials in children with FASD. The forth speaker will discuss the effects of maternal choline supplementation during pregnancy and lactation on neurodevelopmental outcomes in a mouse model of Down syndrome and will present some clinical work assessing cognitive and affective functioning in seven-year-old children whose mothers participated in a randomized controlled trial of maternal choline supplementation during either the last trimester of pregnancy or the first three months postnatally. Speaker five will provide a more mechanistic explanation of the impact of choline supplementation during early development on dendritic complexity in hippocampal neurons.

Environmental Exposures from Placenta to Birth: Effects on Immunity Symposium

The goal of this symposium is to outline the influence of maternal immunity and environmental exposures during pregnancy on the fetal immune system and outcomes later in life. We will focus on environmental exposures, the maternal immune system, and placenta in so far as they influence the microenvironment, the developing immune system and subsequent health outcomes of the developing infant. The long-term effects of perinatal exposures will also be explored. While it is well established that maternal exposures and genetic background can predispose offspring to allergic disease or immune suppression, the mechanisms for this are poorly understood, and potential interventions or remedies are generally lacking. Therefore, it is important to examine the evidence pointing to windows of exposure as well as sites of susceptibility and to continue research centered around these areas of concern. It is also necessary to ensure that testing strategies are sufficient to replicate relevant exposure scenarios and immune responses in order to readily translate data from animal models to human patients.

Ocean-Borne Risks to Pregnant Women and Their Babies Symposium
(Joint with DNTS)

Approximately forty percent of the world’s population lives along coastlines, and more than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food. Those numbers are expected to increase significantly over the next 20 years. In Southern California alone, the watershed includes more than 22 million people, all of California’s off-shore oil exploration, the two largest container ports in the United States, and takes in millions of gallons of treated wastewater each year. This session will review ocean-borne risks to the developing brain including exposures to ocean-borne toxins and toxicants as well as threats from climate change, rising sea levels and the predicted increase in hurricanes and major storms. The first speaker is from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography will explain the transport of toxins and toxicants through aerosols and through marine-based food chains and review risks associated with warming oceans and toxic algal blooms. Speaker two will discuss what we’ve learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico about drinking water contamination, stress, and infectious disease that could harm pregnant mothers and their developing babies. The third speaker will provide new insights into domoic acid neurotoxicity in human and animal studies. Speaker four will explain how a zebrafish model can be used to determine the risks of developmental neurotoxicity from marine toxicants ranging from marine toxins to nanoplastics.

Birth Defects Outcomes Across the Lifespan: Perspectives from Health Services Research Symposium

Most epidemiologic research on birth defects focuses on prevalence, trends and risk factors, including genetics and mortality. Most infants born with birth defects survive, in many cases into adulthood or old age. Children and families face challenges accessing needed services, and often require specialized treatment and/or follow-up surgery. The transition from pediatric/adolescent health care to adult services also poses challenges for many youth with birth defects. Adults with birth defects may face early onset of chronic conditions and disability. This session is designed to introduce the field of health services research for infants, children, and adults living with birth defects, by presenting several focused topics that highlight both the range of research being done in this area, and the plethora of research opportunities that remain to be explored.

Public Affairs Symposium—Differences in Sex Development

The symposium will discuss the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric urogenital disorders, evolving medical management of psychological and behavioral outcomes in patients and their families, advances in the mechanistic understanding of sexual differentiation and abnormal sex development, and the use of altered reproductive system development in laboratory animal models to understand potential human risk from endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Science Committee Symposium—Establishing Scientific Confidence in Alternate Approaches
(Joint with DNTS)

Many alternative methods for developmental toxicity, and developmental neurotoxicity (DNT), testing have been developed over the last several decades, but their ultimate utility relies on rigorous evaluation to establish their validity and scientific confidence. Several groups and regulatory agencies are working on developing strategic roadmaps and updating current testing requirements to include the potential for use of alternative approaches, including US federal agencies, the evidence-based toxicology consortium (EBTC), and the International Council for Harmonization (ICH) of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use. Given the numerous complex processes involved in fetal development, it is unlikely that a single assay or Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) concept will be sufficient for understanding and/or predicting the developmental toxicity potential of chemicals. Establishing scientific confidence in alternatives, defining their applicability domain in terms of both chemical and biological space, and characterizing how they are best used in integrated testing strategies will be key for gaining acceptance of alternative methods. Evaluating well-defined groups of reference chemicals, such as the list proposed in the draft ICH guideline S5(R3) on Detection of Toxicity to Reproduction for Human Pharmaceuticals or environmental chemicals identified by ICCVAM with robust animal data in multiple species, can help provide insight into the limitations of alternatives and how they can be combined. In vitro to in vivo extrapolation is a critical tool to understand how in vitro activity concentrations in developmentally relevant targets relate to external exposures. Models to better represent maternal-fetal transport are being applied to known and suspected developmental toxicants with human exposure information. This session will highlight how the use of reference chemicals, in vitro to in vivo extrapolation, and evolving validation practices can be used to define the utility of alternative approaches for DT and DNT, to develop integrated testing strategies, and will inform the discussion on how these approaches can help the field move forward.

Determining Causality in Teratology Symposium
(Joint with OTIS)

Causal agents that result in birth defects have been discovered for a number of birth defects (congenital rubella syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, phocomelia and thalidomide related defects, congenital Zika syndrome, etc.). This session will provide an overview of how causality can be evaluated. The following methods for assessing causality will be addressed: Shepard’s Criteria; Brent’s Criteria; Bradford Hill Criteria; and causal inference framework. Historical and modern examples will be shared to contextualize these evaluation paradigms to research in birth defects and developmental disorders.

Wiley Symposium—Maternal Morbidity and Mortality: Causes, Disparities, and Solutions

Maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity have increased in recent years, and the US ranks poorly on these outcomes relative to other countries. It is estimated that up to half of these outcomes may be preventable through improved care. Disparities are a prominent concern; in particular, maternal mortality is three to four times more likely among African-American than non-Hispanic white women. The major causes of maternal deaths are hypertensive disorders, cardiac events, hemorrhage, thromboembolism, and sepsis. This symposium will examine the reasons that the US lags behind other developed nations in reducing maternal deaths and potential explanations for racial-ethnic disparities. It will provide examples of how state programs are attempting to improve maternal health, including a hospital quality care collaborative in California and a Pregnancy Medical Home program in North Carolina. The symposium will also include a discussion of cardiovascular and hypertensive disorders during pregnancy, which are the most common causes of maternal mortality, and their impact on maternal health and fetal development.

HESI Symposium—Thyroid Hormone Assessments: Implications for Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology

Recent updates to OECD guidelines and forthcoming regulatory guidelines require the measurement of thyroid hormone levels in the blood of mammalian laboratory species. Preliminary analyses indicate that there is a wide variability across laboratories in the methods being used to measure thyroid hormones in young rodents, as well as in the success of obtaining reliable data. Even though publicly available regulatory guidelines and guidance address study design, they allow varied approaches to thyroid hormone measurement in rodents, and an optimal study design or logical approach to thyroid hormone testing in young rodents has not yet been established in a regulatory testing context. Validity, accuracy, sensitivity and reproducibility of the assays are issues of concern. It is not clear to what extent variability in the data can be attributed to methodological issues or to innate biological variability. The intra- and inter-laboratory historical control data that are needed to help address this question are not generally available. As such, there is a need for additional clarification and guidance regarding the collection (timing and methods), assessment (standardization and validation), and interpretation of thyroid hormone data (as it relates to adversity) for regulatory toxicology and risk assessment. This session will provide an update from a recent joint HESI-DART and ETS workshop, presenting the state-of-the-science on thyroid hormone assessments (preclinical methods and data collection) as well as gaps and knowledge as it relates to DART, an update on an effort to establish a historical control database, and begin discussions towards recommendations/ consensus on how to improve data interpretation/ understanding of thyroid changes and their relationship to adverse outcomes.

Hot Topics Symposium: What Do We Need to Know about Climate Change and Effects on Maternal-Fetal Health?

With global temperatures expected to continue to rise because of climate change, it is essential to study health outcomes from elevated temperatures, particularly in vulnerable populations such as expectant mothers and their babies. This session will review epidemiologic evidence on the effects of temperature and adverse birth outcomes and risk factors that might increase susceptibility to high heat and humidity. Higher temperatures have also been linked to an increased risk of specific congenital heart defects. Evidence comes from eight participating sites in the National Birth defects Prevention Study. Higher global temperatures increase the risk of wildfires, so the final talk will focus on lessons learned during from a nonhuman primate cohort inadvertently exposed to smoke from California wildfires. The session will include with a discussion of the weight of current evidence and emerging research needs.

Leveraging Zebrafish to Unravel Mechanisms of Developmental Toxicity Symposium

Due to rapid ex utero development time (72 hours from fertilization to hatch) and ease of automated in vivo imaging, genetic manipulations, and minimal husbandry requirements during early development, the zebrafish embryo-larval model is increasingly being leveraged to uncover mechanisms of developmental toxicity. Importantly, unlike cell-based assays, zebrafish embryos and larvae provide the complexity of an intact vertebrate animal, enabling rapid and cost-effective evaluation of xenobiotic-induced effects on dynamic developmental processes as well as multiple interacting target tissues and organs. The objective of this session is to highlight four different ongoing studies within academia and government that underscore the power and versatility of using zebrafish as a model for unraveling novel mechanisms of developmental toxicity—mechanisms that are often conserved and have direct relevance and translation to mammalian systems, including humans. The first two speakers will highlight the utility of using zebrafish for identifying mechanisms of target organ toxicity within the pancreas and heart. The third speaker will discuss the role of host-associated bacteria in xenobiotic metabolism within zebrafish. The fourth speaker will highlight the advantage of using zebrafish for identifying chemicals that alter epigenetic reprogramming during early embryonic development.


Professional Development Workshop—Irresponsible Conduct of Research: What Happens When Things Go Wrong

(Separate Registration Required, Boxed Lunch Provided)

The Professional Development Workshop, "Irresponsible Conduct of Research: What Happens When Things Go Wrong?" is co-sponsored by the Membership and Student Affairs Committees. This workshop will cover topics covered in the training required of NIH grantees, presented in a "pitfalls and case scenarios" approach. The workshop will consist of four 30-minute presentations which will give attendees an appreciation for social responsibility and the value of mentorship; data management from rigor, reproducibility, authorship, through peer review; financial management/collaboration and how to address conflicts of interest; and topics of concern when conducting research with human or animal subjects. The goal of the workshop is to raise awareness of these important topics and provide direction and inspiration for early and career scientists encountering these issues.

Current Topics and Updates for Pregnancy Registries Workshop

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.

Multidisciplinary Research Needs Workshop

The Research Needs Workshop, first held at the 2018 meeting, is intended to provide meeting attendees an opportunity to participate in breakout discussions on emerging and progressing topics in birth defects research and to define specific research needs. This year’s workshop will include progress in opioids research (follow-on to 2018 workshop and update on a newly funded proposal as part of FDA’s perinatal Health Center of Excellence), in vitro and in vivo research initiatives on the placenta, modeling and bioinformatics, and recommendations from the Task Force on Research Specific to Pregnant Women and Lactating Women (PRGLAC).

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 Sunday, June 23, 2019 from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm. This poster session will be held jointly with DNTS and will include posters from both Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention and DNTS attendees. Poster Session 2 will take place on Monday June 24, 2019 from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm and will include posters from Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, DNTS, and OTIS attendees.

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.


As you can see, the 2019 program represents the great strengths of our multidisciplinary Society and presents something for everyone. We invite you to experience the excitement in San Diego!