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Professor who links nutrition to birth defects honored by The March of Dimes

Boston, MA, Nov. 4, 2013 - A researcher who showed that what a woman consumes during pregnancy may increase her baby's risk of developing a birth defect will receive the March of Dimes Agnes Higgins Award for outstanding achievements in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition.

Gary M. Shaw, DrPH, is professor and associate chair for Clinical Research in the Department of Pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. He is also co-principal investigator of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University.

Dr. Shaw's research has helped prevent a variety birth defects and identified many risk factors, including medication use, occupational exposures, alcohol use, nutritional factors, medical conditions, and genetic variants. Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, President of the March of Dimes, presented the award to Dr. Shaw during the 141st annual meeting of the American Public Health Association held here.

"Dr. Shaw's research on human birth defects shows that the consumption of alcohol and poor nutrition can increase the risks of birth defects for babies. Through his research, he has influenced how healthcare providers counsel their pregnant patients on what to eat and what they should avoid," said Dr. Howse. "The March of Dimes is honored to recognize Dr. Shaw's efforts toward our goal of giving more babies a healthy start in life."

Dr. Shaw received his doctorate in epidemiology in 1986 from University of California at Berkeley. He has conducted epidemiologic research for 25 years. He has collaborated with many key researchers in the field of birth defects and has published more than 300 scientific papers. Prior to joining Stanford, Dr. Shaw was the Research Director/Epidemiologist of the March of Dimes California Research Division for 20 years.

Dr. Shaw's research focuses on the epidemiology of birth defects, the interaction between genes and the environment on newborn health outcomes, and nutrition and reproductive outcomes. During the last 20 years, he has led eight major population-based epidemiologic studies involving thousands of maternal interviews and DNA sample collections.

Dr. Shaw is associate editor of the American Journal of Medical Genetics, Birth Defects Research: Clinical and Molecular Teratology and the American Journal of Epidemiology. He is an active member of the Teratology Society, the Society for Epidemiologic Research, the Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiologic Research and a Fellow of the American College of Epidemiology. He is an elected member of the American Epidemiological Society and was awarded the Godfrey P. Oakley, Jr. Award by the National Birth Defects Prevention Network in 2007 for his significant contributions to the field of birth defects. Dr. Shaw's devotion to preventing birth defects through improved maternal nutrition, and his distinguished research, teaching and service, make him highly deserving of the Agnes Higgins Award.

The March of Dimes established the Agnes Higgins Award in 1980 to recognize her role in improving maternal health during pregnancy, and the health of babies. Agnes Higgins, CM, BSc, PDt., FRSH, LLD, was a nutritionist and executive director of the Montreal Diet Dispensary from 1948 until her retirement in 1981. The March of Dimes first presented the award as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Canada's Montreal Diet Dispensary.

Mrs. Higgins helped pregnant women have healthy babies by focusing on the mother's nutritional needs. Services provided at the Dispensary were the precursor of government nutrition programs for pregnant women in the United States, such as WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Since 1980, the Agnes Higgins Award has been presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting to leaders in the field of maternal-fetal medicine in recognition of their achievement in research, education or clinical services in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition.

In 2013, the March of Dimes celebrates its 75th Anniversary and its ongoing work to help babies get a healthy start in life. Early research led to the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines that all babies still receive. Other breakthroughs include new treatments for premature infants and children with birth defects.

About 4 million babies are born each year in the United States, and all have benefitted from March of Dimes lifesaving research and education.


Contact: Elizabeth Lynch
March of Dimes Foundation

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