ARS Research Helps Develop New Leads in Cleft Palate
By Ann Perry
August 4, 2009
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) animal
Panter is helping to develop remarkable new techniques for treating cleft
palates in humans.
Panter works at the ARS
Plant Research Laboratory in Logan, Utah, where he studied why cows that
graze on toxic lupines often give birth to calves affected by "crooked
calf disease." These calves are usually born alive at full term, but they
can have a number of skeletal defects, including contracture deformities and
Panter found that pregnant cows usually begin to graze on lupines at the
same time their unborn calves begin movements essential for normal development.
During this time-which is also when the two palatal shelves close to form the
roof of the mouth-toxins in the lupines can cross the placental barrier and
temporarily induce fetal immobility. If the fetus isn't physically active
during this interlude, the position of the tongue prevents palatal closure, and
a cleft palate results.
Panter used these findings as a basis for developing a goat model to study
the cause of cleft palates in the unborn kid goats. These animals were then
used to test methods for prenatal cleft repair surgery.
After they were born, the baby goats that had undergone prenatal cleft
repair had palates with muscle and mucosal structures that were virtually
indistinguishable from the palates of goats that had never developed clefting
defects. The prenatal surgeries also substantially repaired clefted bony
structures, and the goats were able to nurse successfully and vocalize without
impediments. In addition, the repaired palates had none of the scarring
associated with cleft palate either before or after conventional cleft palate
Prenatal surgery is risky for both mother and fetus, and these techniques
are not approved yet for use in humans. However, this research could provide
plastic surgeons with alternatives for repairing cleft-affected humans if and
when other protocols for human fetal surgery are available.
more about the research in the August 2009 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of