New Center Targets Prevention of Spina Bifida

godfrey oakley and jim owla

Godfrey Oakley (left), director of the Center for Spina Bifida Research, Prevention, and Policy, and James Okula of Sophie's Voice Foundation. Photo by Pete Winkle.

RSPH is home to a new global initiative to prevent spina bifida.

Epidemiology professor ­Godfrey Oakley directs the Center for Spina Bifida Research, Prevention, and Policy (CSBRPP) in collaboration with Emory's Department of Pediatrics and the nonprofit Sophie's Voice Foundation.

Spina bifida often causes paralysis and other physical and developmental conditions among children. Worldwide, more than 325,000 babies are born annually with neural tube birth defects, 75% of which could be prevented with the proper daily consumption of folic acid during pregnancy.

In the United States, where the FDA requires that folic acid be added to flour and other "enriched" grains, prevention of spina bifida-F (spina bifida that folic acid prevents) is quite high. CSBRPP will help other countries develop and implement regulations that require folic acid (and iron, zinc, and vitamin B12) be added to flour, corn, and rice products. The center also will work closely with the Flour Fortification Initiative at Rollins.

"Folic acid fortification is now required by nearly 70 countries," says Oakley, a pioneer in the fortification movement. "Globally, however, we are only preventing about 20% of this type of spina bifida, so the primary goal of the new center is the worldwide prevention of spina bifida by 2022."

CSBRPP will collaborate with CDC's National ­Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and other international public, private, nonprofit, and academic partners. In time, the center plans to create programs that advance quality of life for people living with spina bifida, including the transition from childhood to adult care.—Jennifer Johnson 

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