Thursday, February 10, 2022

Azeez Butali
Azeez Butali

The nonprofit organization, Smile Train, awarded Azeez Butali, professor in the Department of Oral Pathology, Radiology, and Medicine, a $40,000 grant to study the genetic causes of cleft lip and palate among the Zulu population in South Africa.

Smile Train is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free corrective surgery for cleft lip and palate around the world. This project is part of their efforts to understand and treat cleft and lip palate in African populations.

Azeez Butali is the world’s foremost expert in the genetics of cleft lip and palate among African populations. Cleft lip and palate account for a significant proportion of neonatal birth defects in South Africa, but there is very little data on the genetic causes of the condition for this population. This project examines the genetic causes of cleft lip and palate within the Zulu population in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

Saliva samples will be taken from all patients of Zulu ancestry attending two Cleft Clinics in KZN. Samples will be sequenced at the Butali lab to identify rare and common variants that contribute to the risk of clefts in individuals of Zulu ancestry in KZN.

This genetic information will help health care professional, patients, families, and the larger community understand the genetic risk factors associated with cleft lip and palate. It will also open resources for providing counselling about the risk of cleft lip and palate occurring repeatedly within a family. This knowledge can, thereby, improve prevention efforts among this population.

Butali is working with Thriona Naicker, a trained Medical Geneticist and PhD student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Butali serves as Naicker’s mentor for his dissertation research.