University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

University of Pittsburgh professor Juan Taboas grew up in Cuba, where he said fixing things is part of the culture. When he was a kid, his grandma had a transistor radio that seemed like it was always breaking.

“I remember being in the … kitchen with my dad and we'd open it up, and were trying to figure out how this circuit board is working and what went wrong,” he said. “That really got me into the whole idea that by fixing you learn.”

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $11.8 million over five years to the University of Pittsburgh to study the hereditary roots of cleft lips and palates.

Orofacial clefts are small gaps in the lip or palate that form in a baby’s mouth when the child doesn’t develop properly in the womb. These occur in one of every 700 births around the world, according to Mary Marazita, a Pitt professor and director of the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics.