Graeme Wallace
Graeme Wallace

Exciting research needs volunteers

STRESS during pregnancy is a possible cause of cleft palates in babies, a Southern Cross University researcher believes.

Graeme Wallace has begun a study to look for a link between the condition and stress caused by inadequate nutrition or environmental toxins.

He is seeking 100 women between 12 and 20 weeks pregnant to volunteer for the study.

Of the 100 he needs to find 50 whose unborn babies have been diagnosed as having cleft palates.

About 260 babies were born with a cleft palate on the east coast of Australia every year, all of them remediable cases, Mr Wallace said.

“The Government spends about $140 million a year on surgery to treat the condition,” he said.

But he is interested in looking at how it might be prevented.

Mr Wallace stumbled upon the idea for his research when he was working with a team of surgeons in the Philippines and was told by them that the cleft palate was ‘a problem of the poor’.

Many expectant mothers in the Philippines ate only five days a week, Mr Wallace said, and the country had a high incidence of the birth defect.

Back in Australia he met mothers who had given birth to cleftpalate babies who told him that their husband had left them, or that the family had gone broke while they were pregnant.

The clincher was reports from Iraq that showed the incidence of cleft palates had doubled after the war began there in 2003.

Mr Wallace wants to take blood, urine and hair samples from the 100 mothers to test for nutrientlevels and the presence of heavy metals.

The study would provide the mothers with ‘the most comprehensive set of test results’, he said, which would be passed on to their obstetricians.

He expects it to take two years to draw a conclusion.

“Even if our research shows there is no link of this sort that is very useful in itself,” Mr Wallace said.

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