A global research network is needed if scientists are ever going to understand and prevent cleft palate, say experts at the first World Health Organization Collaborating Centre set up to develop such a structure.
Professor Bill Shaw, of The University of Manchester, says the complexity of craniofacial anomalies, like cleft lip and palate, means no one country, let alone institution, has the necessary expertise and resources to find all the answers to these distressing conditions.
His comments come as the University's School of Dentistry was designated a WHO Collaborating Centre for Research on the Treatment of Craniofacial Congenital Anomalies – the first such centre in the world – in recognition of the pioneering research carried out there into craniofacial disorders.
"Being designated a WHO Collaborative Centre is an honour and a challenge; it will be our role to promote and facilitate international collaboration and act in an advisory capacity to the World Health Organization," said Professor Shaw.
Although substantial progress has been made into the causes and treatment of craniofacial anomalies over the last few years, Professor Shaw says there is still a long way to go before they are fully understood.
"A child is born with a cleft somewhere in the world every two minutes and it has become clear just how complex these conditions are," he said.
"Our knowledge has improved but there is still uncertainty about the best form of treatment and the timing of that treatment, which is why a global, multi-centre approach is required.
"Recent discoveries confirm a genetic link in cleft and craniofacial anomalies but factors in the maternal environment may also act as a trigger to cause a fault in the development of the embryo."
The centre's 10-strong team, which includes staff from the University's Faculties of Medical and Human Sciences as well as Life Sciences, is already involved in a number of international collaborations.