Orofacial clefts, such as cleft lip and palate, are the most common structural birth anomalies. Each year, the MGHfC Cleft Lip and Craniofacial Clinic sees individuals with orofacial clefts in addition to providing comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for people of all ages with craniofacial disorders. Studies in the Craniofacial Developmental Biology Laboratory directed by surgeon-scientist Eric C. Liao, MD, PhD, supports advances in clinical care by investigating the genetic regulation of facial development. Using the genetically tractable zebrafish model, Dr. Liao and his team at the Center for Regenerative Medicine have characterized the role of the Wnt signaling pathway and Irf6 transcriptional regulator in the pathogenesis of orofacial cleft. Using advanced technology for targeted gene editing, the lab is also working to characterize other human gene candidates involved in the regulation of facial morphogenesis and to create model systems of cleft malformations that will facilitate large-scale screens for drug discovery. The hope is to identify supplements or drugs to prevent the orofacial clefts before they form.
Max Dougherty, George Kamel, Michael Grimaldi, Lisa Gfrerer, Valeriy Shubinets, Renee Ethier, Graham Hickey, Robert Cornell, and Eric C. Liao. Distinct requirements for wnt9a and irf6 in extension and integration mechanisms during zebrafish palate morphogenesis. Development, 140(1):76-81, 2013