THURSDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) -- The genetic repair of cleft lips in mice embryos could eventually lead to new ways to treat and prevent the birth defect in humans, U.S. researchers report.

The scientists pinpointed the role of genes for specific proteins that coordinate cellular signaling behaviors that play a major role in the development of cleft lip and palate. Working with specially engineered mice, they also reported that altering one type of molecule within a specific signaling pathway can correct cleft lip and palate.

The study was published recently in the journal Developmental Cell.

This is the first time that anyone has corrected this defect in embryos, according to study author Dr. Licia Selleri, an associate professor of cell and developmental biology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

"This is a very provocative result because it opens a completely new avenue of strategies for tissue repair," she said in a medical college news release.

While the findings hold promise, experts note that research involving animals frequently fails to lead to benefits for humans.

Children born with cleft lip and cleft palate, which are among the most common birth defects, often require multiple surgeries, speech therapy and orthodontics because of the disfigurement.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about cleft lip and palate.