The exact cause of cleft remains unknown and Operation Smile is trying to find the answers. But our research also needs to identify new ways of delivering surgical care. We need to listen to patients and really understand what prevents them from accessing care so we can break down those obstacles for children and families who need surgery.

There are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of birth defect. While some causes are still unknown, genetics and family history, pre-existing medical conditions, poor nutrition and exposure to harmful environmental substances can affect the healthy development of a baby.

Researchers continue to figure out all the genes involved in the formation of a cleft condition and the interaction of these genes with the environment, hoping to avoid clefts from happening someday. We continue to invest in research initiatives in collaboration with some of the world's leading institutions.

We also battle cultural barriers to assisting patients in the field. In some countries, they feel cleft conditions are a curse or an untreatable condition - we work in country to change these views and educate the local population about the causes of cleft and the treatments available.

Discovering the Causes of Cleft, Part 1

Whether traveling from surrounding villages or distant islands, families in the Philippines seeking cleft surgeries for their children must sacrifice precious time and... Read More

Discovering the Causes of Cleft, Part 2

At the Operation Smile medical mission site in Cebu City, International Family Study (IFS) project manager Frederick Brindopke is busy collecting saliva samples for genetic analysis from each... Read More



“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder