In a series of experiments during mid 1930s, a team of researchers in New York helped establish that bacteria of the species Toxoplasma gondii can infect humans, and in infants can cause toxoplasmosis, a disease that inflames brains, lungs, and hearts, and that can organisms that have it. The team included Abner Wolf, David Cowen, and Beryl Paige. They published the results of their experiment in Human Toxoplasmosis: Occurrence in Infants as an Encephalomyelitis Verification of Transmission to Animals. Toxoplasmosis is an infection that causes inflammations in the brain (encephalitis), heart (myocarditis), and lungs (pneumonitis). The disease is caused in organisms that consume items contaminated by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. The bacteria can transfer from pregnant women to their fetuses during pregnancy (congenitally), and it can lead those fetuses to develop physical deformities and mental disabilities. The 1930s experiments established Toxoplasma gondii as a human pathogen and helped increase research into congenital toxoplasmosis, enabling later researchers to develop measures to prevent against the disease in pregnant women.

The New York Appellate Court ruled on 11 December 1977 in favor of Steven and Hetty Park and against Herbert Chessin for the wrongful life of the Parks' child. In a wrongful life case, a disabled or sometimes deceased child brings suit against a physician for failing to inform its parents of possible genetic defects, thereby causing harm to the child when born. Park v. Chessin was the first case to rule that medical personnel could be legally responsible for wrongful life. Further cases such as the 1979 case Berman v. Allan and the 1982 case Turpin v. Sortini similarly dealt with the legal challenges inherent in wrongful life suits.

Diprosopus is a congenital defect also known as craniofacial duplication. The exact description of diprosopus refers to a fetus with a single trunk, normal limbs, and facial features that are duplicated to a certain degree. A less severe instance is when the nose is duplicated and the eyes are spaced far apart. In the most extreme instances, the entire face is duplicated, hence the name diprosopus, which is Greek for two-faced. Fetuses with diprosopus often also lack brains (anencephaly), have neural tube defects, or heart malformations. In some caases, if the brain is formed, it may have duplicated structures. Most infants with diprosopus are stillborn and there are fewer than fifty cases documented since 1864.

Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) is a rare placental disease that can occur at any time during pregnancy involving identical twins. TTTS occurs when there is an unequal distribution of placental blood vessels between fetuses, which leads to a disproportionate supply of blood delivered. This unequal allocation of blood leads to developmental problems in both fetuses that can range in severity depending on the type, direction, and number of interconnected blood vessels.

Prenatal alcohol (ethanol) exposure can have dramatic effects on the development of the central nervous system (CNS), including morphological abnormalities and an overall reduction in white matter of the brain. The impact of ethanol on neural stem cells such as radial glia (RG) has proven to be a significant cause of these defects, interfering with the creation and migration of neurons and glial cells during development. The impact of ethanol on RG can occur as early as three weeks after fertilization and can persist through the third trimester of pregnancy, interfering with intrinsic mechanisms and signaling pathways to impede cellular proliferation, differentiation, and survival.

The Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) gene was identified in 1989 by geneticist Lap-Chee Tsui and his research team as the gene associated with cystic fibrosis (CF). Tsui's research pinpointed the gene, some mutations to which cause CF, and it revealed the underlying disease mechanism. The CFTR gene encodes a protein in the cell membrane in epithelial tissues and affects multiple organ systems in the human body. Mutations in the CFTR gene cause dysfunctional regulation of cell electrolytes and water content. Research on the CFTR mutation has shed light on the ways in which this gene is vital to normal human development.

Lap-Chee Tsui is a geneticist who discovered the cystic fibrosis (CF) gene, and his research team sequenced human chromosome 7. As the location of the cystic fibrosis gene is now known, it is possible for doctors and specialists to identify in human fetuses the mutation that causes the fatal disease. Tsui's research also outlined the mechanisms for the development of cystic fibrosis, which were previously unknown.

Prenatal exposure to alcohol (ethanol) results in a continuum of physical and neurological developmental abnormalities that vary depending on the timing, duration, and degree of alcohol exposure. Heavy exposure during development may lead to the condition Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), characterized by growth deficits, neurological deficiencies and minor facial abnormalities. Alcohol is a known teratogen, an agent that causes birth defects and acts upon developing embryos through mechanisms that are not yet fully understood. One of the better understood developmental effects of alcohol relates to the minor facial abnormalities associated with FAS, particularly the role that the gene sonic hedgehog (shh) plays in the regulation of craniofacial defects. In comparative animal studies, maternal exposure to alcohol results in the massive decrease of shh and shh transcription factors in affected cell populations. However, the exogenous application of shh to the developing embryo has shown limited success in reversing this expression, thereby restoring a normative pattern of craniofacial development in the affected embryo.

The spinal column is the central structure in the vertebrate body from which stability, movement, and posture all derive. The vertebrae of the spine are organized into four regions (listed in order from cranial to caudal): cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and pelvic. These regions are classified by their differences in curvature. The human spine usually consists of thirty-three vertebrae, seven of which are cervical (C1-C7), twelve are thoracic (T1-T12), five are lumbar (L1-L5), and nine are pelvic (five fused as the sacrum and four fused as the coccyx).

The Supreme Court of California reversed the Superior Court of Fresno County's decision to dismiss the Turpins' claims in the case Turpin v. Sortini on 3 May 1982. The case was based upon a wrongful life claim, in which a disabled child sues physicians for neglecting to inform its parents of potential genetic defects, resulting in harm to the child when it is born. The Turpin case determined tha a physician could be liable for failing to inform parents of potential birth defects in the fetus. It further concluded that a minor has grounds to sue for medical malpractice committed when it was an embryo or fetus.

Subscribe to Congenital Disorders