BU researcher receives highest honor from the National Birth Defects Prevention Network

February 27th, 2013
Allen A. Mitchell, MD, a professor of public health (epidemiology) and professor of pediatrics at the Boston University Schools of Public Health and Medicine, recently received the Godfrey P. Oakley, Jr., Award at the annual meeting of the National Birth Defects Prevention Network. Mitchell, who is also the director of Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC), was recognized for his significant lifetime contributions to the field of birth defects.

Mitchell's interest in birth defects began as an undergraduate student and continued during his pediatric training. In 1967 he began work at the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program where he developed his focus on drug epidemiology (now called pharmacoepidemiology); among other activities, he worked on the analysis of Collaborative Perinatal Project data on birth defects and drugs in pregnancy.

In 1975 he joined the newly-created Drug Epidemiology Unit (now SEC) at Boston University, where following his interest in both pharmacoepidemiology and birth defects, Mitchell in 1975 applied the concept of case-control surveillance to the study of medications that may cause birth defects, and initiated the SEC Birth Defects Study (BDS) which continues to this time, having collected data on prenatal exposures for more than 40,000 malformed infants (and non-malformed infants) identified at multiple hospitals in the regions surrounding Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, San Diego and most recently Nashville, as well as through birth defects registries in Massachusetts and New York state.

The BDS is now one of two data collection components collaborating with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in a national systematic surveillance effort (Vaccines and Medication in Pregnancy Safety Surveillance—"VAMPSS") designed to evaluate the risks and safety of the wide range of medications taken by pregnant women. Mitchell also designed and directed epidemiologic efforts to evaluate pregnancy prevention efforts for drugs known to cause birth defects, including isotretinoin (Accutane and others) and thalidomide (Thalomid).

Mitchell is the author of numerous publications in the fields of birth defects pharmacoepidemiology and serves on many editorial boards and advisory committees. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1966 and his medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston in 1970. He performed his pediatric residency training at the Boston Floating Hospital for Infants and Children (Tufts-New England Medical Center).

With this prestigious award the National Birth Defects Prevention Network honors Dr. Oakley who was instrumental in setting the birth defects agenda at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many decades and in focusing national attention on the effects of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects.

Provided by Boston University Medical Center

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