A centre dedicated to investigating the diagnosis and treatment of birth defects is due to open later.  The Newlife Birth Defects Research Centre said it would be the first in Europe to focus specifically on how birth defects arise, and new ways to treat them.  The £6.5m centre was funded through donations to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.

It is based at University College London’s Institute of Child Health.

Three specialist teams at the centre will examine ways to prevent birth defects, which affect 2% of European pregnancies.

‘First weeks’

Newlife, which describes itself as the leading children’s disability charity, said the centre was the first such complex in Europe dedicated to birth defects.

Professor Andrew Copp, head of the centre, said specialists were able to prevent only a “very small number” of birth defects.

“Some children require surgery in the first few weeks of life. Even if the operation is successful, the child usually needs further medical and surgical treatments throughout his or her life.

“We remain ignorant of what actually causes common birth defects such as cleft palate, heart defects and spina bifida. A huge amount of research needs to be done.”

Newlife Medical Director Professor Michael Patton said official figures showed “42 children are born with a significant birth defect each day in the UK – that’s one in every 45 live births”.