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Congenit Anom (Kyoto). 2011 Mar;51(1):2-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-4520.2010.00311.x.

Causes of birth defects: lessons from history.

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Menzies Centre for Health Policy, School of Public Health and Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Environmental causes of birth defects have increasingly been recognized since the mid-20th century. The teratogenic effects of maternal infections such as rubella and therapeutic drugs such as thalidomide were first reported by alert clinicians. Among clinicians and researchers who have contributed significantly to our knowledge of these environmental causes, Norman Gregg was a Sydney ophthalmologist whose seminal study in 1941 identified maternal rubella as a cause of birth defects. The teratogenic effects of thalidomide were first noted in 1961 by William McBride, a Sydney obstetrician, and independently confirmed by Widukind Lenz, a German pediatrician. Marsh Edwards, an Australian veterinary scientist, showed experimentally that maternal hyperthermia caused birth defects in various animal species. While it is likely that alert individual clinicians or researchers will continue to signal the first clues about new environmental causes of birth defects, especially therapeutic drugs, it is now usually teams of laboratory researchers and epidemiologists who are more likely to provide definitive evidence of these new teratogens.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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