SCIENCE - U.S. Agencies Award $12.5 million; Chambers Leads National Effort to Reduce Risks of Birth Defects

Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH

Epidemiologist, Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, Director of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) Collaborative Research Center, partnered with Boston University to create a new Network to track the impact of drugs and vaccines used in pregnancy on birth defect outcomes. Called VAMPSS (the Vaccines and Medications in Pregnancy Surveillance System), the network was recently awarded $12.5 million for 5 years by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Pregnant mothers often avoid vaccines, medicinal drugs, and even certain foods, for fear of impairing their baby’s development. The reason is there isn’t much data on whether a certain drug is harmful or harmless during pregnancy. In an effort to help answer these questions, OTIS services throughout U.S. and Canada counsel 70,000 to 100,000 pregnant women a year, enrolling willing mothers into research studies to follow up on their babies over time.

It is remarkable that each year in the U.S., 97% of newborn babies are born perfectly normal and healthy. However, out of the 4 million babies born every year, around 3% are born with birth defects, often with the causes unknown.

“If we can provide physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and pregnant mothers, with high quality information on drugs, food, and vaccines, we will begin to change the decision making process for pregnant mothers and their babies’ health,” Dr. Chambers shares.

VAMPSS will be overseen by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, with an advisory committee that includes pediatricians and obstetricians nationwide. Findings from the research will go directly to the FDA for accurate labeling on medications, vaccines, and other safety warnings.

The OTIS Collaborative Research Center as well as California-based OTIS counseling services are located in the Division of Dysmorphology-Teratology in the Department of Pediatrics. Led by world-renowned physician-scientist, Dr. Kenneth Lyons-Jones, (known for initially recognizing the ‘Fetal Alcohol Syndrome’) and Dr. Christina Chambers, the Division also does international work on the diagnosis and prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, intervention work with WIC clinics and Native American communities, educational workshops, and prevention campaigns.

“We’ve developed a reputation of excellence in data quality and research results,” Chambers remarks. “We have a unique system that recruits women already taking medications for health reasons or receiving vaccines, as well as similar cohorts not taking those medications or receiving those vaccines. This information is extremely valuable to the FDA, pharmaceutical companies, health care providers and pregnant women who have little data on drug or vaccine safety during pregnancy. We hope to attract more interest from other funders for VAMPSS both from federal sources and private industry, so more can benefit from our research and services.”

WRITTEN BY: Shivani Singh, MS Sr. Web Writer, Dept of Pediatrics, UC San Diego

SCIENTIFIC CONTACT: Dr. Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, Division of Dysmorphology-Teratology, Dept of Pediatrics, UC San Diego

SEE: Full-Story Published by AAAS, SCIENCE, VOL 237, p 1066-1067, 26 February 2010