Program Highlights

The Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention (BDRP) 2020 Program Committee has arranged for an outstanding and expansive scientific program. The program for the BDRP Virtual Annual Meeting includes education courses, cutting-edge scientific symposia, and special lectures. There are also platform sessions and poster sessions providing opportunities for open research communications and updates on the latest cutting-edge research.

Education Courses

Separate registration is required for the Education Courses.

Session 1

Embryology and Toxicity of the Developing Immune System (90 Minute Mini Course)

Development of the human immune system is a continuous process beginning early in utero and continuing to mature after birth. This course will begin with a basic overview of immune system function and immunotoxicity, followed by talks on comparative development of the immune system and developmental immunotoxicity. The session will wrap up with an overview of how abnormalities in immune system function are diagnosed and clinically managed in pediatrics.

Session 2

Juvenile Toxicology (3 Hour Course)

This course will focus on the principles of pediatric safety assessments. Topics addressed will include an overview of juvenile toxicology from a historical and regulatory perspective; approaches to juvenile animal testing for pharmaceutical and nonpharmaceutical industries; a pathology perspective on assessing juvenile toxicity data; and a discussion on the relevance to clinical pediatric medicine.

Session 3

Assessment of Ovarian Toxicity (90 Minute Mini Course)

Evaluation of the ovary is an important endpoint in toxicity studies and can provide valuable information regarding potential adverse effects on reproduction. Currently, microscopic examinations are widely used to provide qualitative and quantitative assessments of the ovaries. The purpose of this mini course is to provide an overview of new approaches to ovarian toxicity assessments including novel in vivo and in vitro methods.

Special Lectures

Josef Warkany Lecture

This award honors Josef Warkany, one of the founding members of the Society and recognizes a scientist who has significantly contributed to the field of birth defects research during his/her career. This year’s lecture will be presented on Thursday, June 25.

F. Clarke Fraser New Investigator Award

This award honors F. Clarke Fraser, one of the founding members of the Society, for his many contributions to the field of developmental toxicology. The recipient will give a presentation related to his/her research. It is intended that the presentation will serve as a demonstration to pre- and postdoctoral students of the development of an independent career in birth defects research. This year’s award will be presented on Monday, June 29.

James G. Wilson Publication Award

This annual award is presented in recognition of the best paper published in the Society’s journal Birth Defects Research and honors a founding member of the Society. This year’s award will be presented on Monday, June 29.

Keynote Lecture

This year’s Keynote lecturer is Diana W. Bianchi, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Bianchi is the director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and head of the Prenatal Genomics and Therapy Section for the Medical Genetics Branch at NHGRI. She oversees the research on pediatric health and development, maternal health, reproductive health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and rehabilitation medicine, among other areas. Her lecture will take place on Tuesday, June 30.

Agnish Fellowship

This Fellowship was established to recognize Dr. Narsingh Agnish's contributions to the Society, particularly to the implementation of the Education Course. The fellowship is awarded to a long-standing member of the Society who has made a major contribution to education in the field of teratology or a related discipline. This year’s Agnish Fellowship will be presented on Tuesday, June 30.

Robert L. Brent Lecture: Teratogen Update

This lecture is presented to facilitate the discussion of new and old teratogens during the Annual Meeting. This lecture will be presented on Thursday, June 25.

BDRP and European Teratology Society Exchange Lecture

As the Society of Birth Defects Research and Prevention (BDRP) reaches its 60th anniversary, we find ourselves both memorializing its roots with nostalgia and exploring its future with eager anticipation. In the 1960s, the scientific leaders in the field of teratology proposed a number of basic principles that have been an accepted foundation for basic research, regulatory testing, risk decisions, environmental management, and clinical application. The annual Exchange Lecture this year explores one of the important early tenets, Karnofsky’s Law, which states that any drug administered at the proper dosage, and at the proper stage of development to embryos of the proper species will be effective in causing disturbances in embryonic development. Speakers from BDRP and the European Teratology Society (ETS) will delve into the time-honored validity of this law, its historical contribution, and its relevance to the future of developmental toxicology assessment and decision making for pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Is Karnofsky’s Law still alive and well in current practice, or has it outlived its relevance? This year’s exchange lecture will take place Thursday, July 2.


COVID-19 and Pregnancy: What Do We Know and How Will We Learn More

This special pre-meeting session, featuring BDRP Past Presidents, Dr. Sonja A. Rasmussen and Dr. Christina D. Chambers and co-hosted by OTIS, will take place June 11 at 12:30 pm EDT (US). Meeting registrants will automatically be registered for this special pre-meeting session. Others who are interested will be able to register for this session only free-of-charge (coming soon) or watch the session via livestream on Twitter. Follow @SocBirthDefects on Twitter for notifications.

Investigation of a Potential Outbreak of Birth Defects Symposium

The goal of this symposium is to provide attendees a roadmap for how to investigate, respond to, and control an outbreak of birth defects. The first presentation will include an introduction to field epidemiology and the ten steps of an outbreak investigation, with special focus on responding to an increased rate of birth defects. The second presentation will add the state health department perspective of detecting and addressing a possible increase using state birth defects surveillance systems. The third presentation will focus on the federal experience of developing interventions in response to an increase, using historical and modern examples (e.g., Zika clinical guidance). The final presentation will share practical advice for communicating with the public during a public health emergency response.

Gene Therapy: CRISPR/Cas9 Technology, Breakthroughs, and Ethical Challenges Symposium
Organized by the Public Affairs Committee

This symposium will focus on the powerful genome-editing technique called CRISPR/Cas9 (“Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats”/CRISPR-associated protein 9). Bacteria use CRISPR to defend themselves against viral invaders by capturing snippets of viral DNA that allows them to “remember” the viruses so that the next time they are invaded, the bacteria can produce RNA segments to target the virus’ DNA and use Cas9 enzyme to cut the DNA and kill them. Scientists used these principles to create the CRISPR/Cas9 technology that is a fast, precise and efficient tool to edit DNA. This technique has been used in agriculture to engineer disease- and weather-resistant crops and in cultured human somatic cells and animal models as a potential treatment for diseases such as sickle-cell anemia, hemophilia and severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Recently, the technique was used to alter the genome in early stage embryos to determine the function of genes during normal and abnormal development. However, if these embryos were allowed to come to term, these germline modifications would be heritable as is the case for the twin girls in China who in 2018 became the first genetically modified “CRISPR” babies. Ethical considerations need to be addressed and a distinction made between genetic modifications aimed at preventing or treating disease, and those that seek to enhance human capacity.

Opioid Use in Pregnancy: Translational Perspectives Symposium

This symposium will focus on translational perspectives of the impact of prenatal opioid exposure, both from preclinical to clinical models, and from observational studies to clinical implications and interventions. Speakers will present data on cutting-edge methods to identify neonates who may be at higher risk for Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome, on management of these infants in the hospital setting, on developmental outcomes, and on a parenting intervention to promote maternal sensitivity and infant outcomes.

Single-Cell Revolution: Embryogenesis at High-Resolution Symposium
(Organized by the BDRP Science Committee)

Cellular analysis of developmental processes and toxicities has traditionally entailed bulk methods (e.g., transcriptomics) that lack single cell resolution or tissue localization methods (e.g., immunostaining) that allow only a few genes to be monitored in each experiment. Recent technological advances have enabled interrogation of genomic function at the single-cell level, providing new opportunities to unravel developmental pathways and processes with unprecedented resolution. This session will address emerging technologies of single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) to globally characterize comprehensive cell types and their molecular characteristics through RNA-based cell lineage maps (continuum gene expression manifolds). A map of human embryogenesis at single-cell resolution ( will provide an encyclopedia of genes that define organogenesis. This technology, combined with artificial intelligence to discover key organizational principles, was recognized by Science magazine as the “Breakthrough of the year” for 2018 due to transformative potential on the way we study how human cells mature over a lifetime, how tissues regenerate, and how cells change in diseases (e.g., patient tissues to screen disease-specific targets and design precision therapy). This symposium will address how it can advance basic and translatable understanding of teratogenesis. A panel discussion moderated by Tony Scialli will conclude the symposium so we can start to “dream” as well as be realistic in the levels of granularity that we need.

Assessing and Modeling Perinatal and Postnatal Exposures to Environmental Chemicals in Support of Human Health Risk Assessment Symposium

Industrial and consumer product chemicals are widely used, creating concern for potential human exposures. Infants and young children are uniquely susceptible to environmental chemical exposures due to their rapid development and physiology. Methods to accurately estimate risks from exposures to environmental chemicals during pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood are needed to inform risk assessment. For many chemicals, the potential for placental and/or lactational transfer is not well characterized, and a lack of information regarding metabolism and clearance can make predicting pharmacokinetic behavior challenging. As children age, their unique behaviors (e.g. hand-to-mouth contact) place them at higher risk relative to adults. This session seeks to examine current methods of assessing children’s exposure from a variety of exposure pathways in early life. Current methods in pharmacokinetic modeling of developmental exposures, as well as unique considerations for exposures during pregnancy and lactation will be explored to provide a better understanding of how children’s exposures are currently assessed and what assumptions are made to provide estimates in data-poor scenarios. Together, the speakers will provide a foundation for understanding children’s unique exposures and suggest methods that may be used for addressing uncertainties to inform risk assessments that can better protect children’s health.

Wiley Symposium—Pregnancy, Environment, and Child Health: A Focus on Obesity and Metabolic Disorders

Obesity and its numerous metabolic health-related endpoints, such as diabetes and heart disease, have a high medical price tag associated with them. The most recent CDC statistics reveal that one in five children and adolescents in the United States are obese. We are just beginning to understand the environmental factors that influence risk for these health adversities, but several environmental chemicals have been associated with obesity and other related health outcomes. These chemicals are termed “obesogens” and research in animal models is progressing to understand mechanistic underpinnings, especially as it pertains to their role during the programming of adipocyte formation in the developing offspring. This causative data in animal models may help develop interventions or informative guidance for reducing risk factors in the environment that may contribute to obesity in children. Obese children are often obese adults and there are exacerbated risks to pregnant women and their resulting children, such that effects in one generation affect those in the next. Understanding the environmental factors contributing to obesity and mitigating those effects in the near future is critical to the health of future generations.

HESI Symposium—Assessing Pregnancy Risk of Immunomodulators

This symposium will provide a broad overview of the role of the maternal immune system in the establishment, maintenance, and completion of a healthy pregnancy. The sessions will cover both current and novel methodologies in preclinical and translational safety assessment of pregnancy risk associated with immunomodulatory therapy as well as address gaps in biology, current tools, and other aspects of pregnancy risk for consideration during drug development. An overview of marketed therapeutics will highlight current knowledge of the effects of immunomodulators on pregnancy in nonclinical animal models, potential class effects, and available data from patients exposed during pregnancy. In addition, this session will provide an overview of the HESI-DART workshop. The intended audience would include those from institutions (industry, academia, regulatory) working actively in the area of reproductive toxicology and immunology and immunotherapy.

Platforms and Posters


Eight graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have been selected to compete for the prestigious Wilson Presentation Awards in this special platform session on June 25, showcasing the future of the field.


Three finalists selected from the abstract pool will present their research in this special platform session on July 1. The BDRP Innovator Award recognizes innovative and translational research at the intersection of at least two of the following areas: basic science, new technologies, clinical research, policy, and outreach.


These platform sessions will feature short presentations of attendees’ current research and will provide an opportunity for live Q&A.


Electronic posters will be available online throughout the virtual meeting and for three months following. Attended virtual poster sessions will provide attendees to interact with poster presenters in real time.

Opportunities to Socialize and Network!

The virtual meeting platform will provide attendees with the opportunity to upload their picture and create a profile to connect directly with other attendees. Additionally, two virtual social events are planned:

  • On Thursday, June 25 from 3:15 to 4:30 pm Eastern (US), join the Society’s President and Past Presidents for the virtual Presidents’ Welcome Reception. Attendees will be shuffled through several small groups to catch up and make plans to connect one-on-one.
  • On Wednesday, July 1 from 12:00 to 12:30 pm Eastern (US), break out your favorite mug as we gather again to celebrate the Society’s 60th Anniversary during the virtual Warkany Tea.

Make sure to use your smartphone or a computer outfitted with a webcam and microphone for these special events!