Craniofacial anomalies are among the most common human birth defects and have considerable functional, aesthetic, and social consequences. The early developmental origin as well as the anatomical complexity of the head and face render these tissues prone to genetic and environmental insult. The establishment of craniofacial clinics offering comprehensive care for craniofacial patients at a single site together with international research networks focused on the origins and treatment of craniofacial disorders has led to tremendous advances in our understanding of the etiology and pathogenesis of congenital craniofacial anomalies. However, the genetic, environmental, and developmental sources of many craniofacial disorders remain unknown. To overcome this problem and further advance craniofacial research, we must recognize current challenges in the field and establish priority areas for study. We still need (i) a deeper understanding of variation during normal development and within the context of any disorder, (ii) improved genotyping and phenotyping and understanding of the impact of epigenetics, (iii) continued development of animal models and functional analyses of genes and variants, and (iv) integration of patient derived cells and tissues together with 3D printing and quantitative assessment of surgical outcomes for improved practice. Only with fundamental advances in each of these areas will we be able to meet the challenge of translating potential therapeutic and preventative approaches into clinical solutions and reduce the financial and emotional burden of craniofacial anomalies.
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