IRISH scientists have discovered a key gene which could help prevent cleft lip in children.
Trinity College Dublin researchers, working as part of an international research team, hope that the findings will lead to the understanding and the eventual prevention of the condition in the future.
Cleft lip and palate are among the most common congenital birth defects worldwide and the distressing condition affects approximately 1 in 700 children born in Ireland.
This new research is being hailed as an important discovery for future treatment.
The team found that a combination of genetic and environmental factors seem to be involved and one important research goal is to map the genes.
In total, more than 3,500 affected families around the world were studied, with Ireland providing one of the largest groups in the research.
Terri H Beaty, PhD, lead author on the study and professor of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said: "While these findings cannot yet be used to identify infants or families at immediate risk, they do open up important new areas of biological research into the causes of cleft lip and palate."
The total sample identified four genes which were strongly associated with the risk for cleft lip or cleft palate before birth.