By the 1960s, the March of Dimes sponsored birth defects and clinical genetics conferences to keep medical professionals up-to-date with progress in the field. We helped to develop a universal standardized language (the karyotype) to describe human chromosomes. At a March of Dimes conference in 1969, Dr. Victor McKusick proposed that science might create a molecular map of all genes. His idea sparked the March of Dimes to organize a series of human gene mapping workshops that ultimately led to the Human Genome Project of the 1990s.
Our interest in genetics goes beyond science itself to assisting individuals and families. We have developed the field of genetic counseling to help parents and parents-to-be understand the risks of inherited disorders. We helped to establish the first master’s degree program in genetic counseling at a U.S. college. In the 1980s we sponsored an educational program on Genetic Decision Making and Pastoral Care, enabling clergy from different religions to understand the complexities of genetics in order to give appropriate counseling to concerned families. At the same time, our funding of scientific research has remained fundamental. Our grantees have identified the gene for Fragile X Syndrome and have created therapies for other life-threatening disorders.
As we note the 60th anniversary of Watson and Crick’s famous article on the double helix of DNA, we look forward to a time when birth defects and premature birth have receded into the past just as polio has done. Our steadfast commitment to “stronger, healthier babies” is grounded in the building blocks of genetics that help us identify the causes of disease.