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Click for links to photos, slides and videos now available from the 2018 FaceBase Annual Meeting.


FaceBase is a collaborative NIDCR-funded consortium to generate data in support of advancing research into craniofacial development and malformation. It serves as a community resource by generating large datasets of a variety of types and making them available to the wider research community via this website. Practices emphasize a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to understanding the developmental processes that create the face. The data offered spotlights high-throughput genetic, molecular, biological, imaging and computational techniques. One of the missions of this consortium is to facilitate cooperation and collaboration between projects.

Group photo of FaceBase 2 taken at the 2018 Annual Meeting at University of Southern California


Although about half of all birth defects involve the face and skull, scientists remain unclear about why most occur. To help families at risk for these conditions, what's needed is a comprehensive and systematic understanding of how the faces of healthy children develop and what goes awry to cause common malformations. With today's improved technologies, researchers can generate megabytes of information in a single experiment on hundreds of genes that are involved in the process. The challenge now is to learn how best to integrate this information into a meaningful whole, while adding new data to form a more comprehensive picture of this complex developmental process.

FaceBase has become a key factor in making this wealth of information more manageable and useable for on-the-ground scientists, clinicians and surgeons. Since its formation, it has become an important resource for researchers

Overarching Aims

The initiative builds on two broad organizing principles. The first is to encourage the formation of multidisciplinary research teams and then a higher level of integration into a consortium with the idea being that not every research problem will be or even can be solved with a single approach. Most will require a range of tools and expertise, allowing a more powerful research synergy to peel away the many layers of biological complexity and reach the essence of the question. A variety of spoke projects support the FaceBase Consortium, a collection of collaborative research teams at various sites around the country.

The second is for each project to target its efforts at one specific aspect, or theme, of craniofacial development. This will allow the initiative to cast a more comprehensive research net that avoids duplication of effort. The research teams will coordinate their efforts through a designated FaceBase hub that manages data integration, data sharing and organizational needs.


FaceBase was initially launched in 2009 with eleven research and technology grants. The first phase from 2009 through 2014 focused on the middle region of the human face and the genetics related to developmental disorders such as cleft lip and palate. The data from this first band of projects created an huge database for the head and skull and craniofacial development available free to the public.

In 2014, the second 5-year phase of FaceBase launched with ISI's Informatics Division manning the Coordinating Center (known as the Hub) and ten new projects expanding FaceBase's domain to include more regions. The Hub is also developing new systems and tools including more complex yet intuitive search capabilities and greater detail and analysis in viewing data.


Principal Investigators

The principal investigators in the 2nd phase of FaceBase Consortium grants are:

  • Carl Kesselman, University of Southern California
    FaceBase Management and Coordination Hub
  • Axel Visel, University of California—Lawrence Berkeley Lab
    Genomic, Transgenic and Knockout Resources for Craniofacial Enhancer Studies
  • Shannon Fisher, University of Pennsylvania, and Matthew Harris, Boston Children's Hospital
    Anatomical atlas and transgenic toolkit for late skull formation in zebrafish
  • Ophir Klein, University of California-San Francisco, and Richard Spritz, University of Colorado-Denver
    Developing 3D Craniofacial Morphometry Data and Tools to Transform Dysmorphology
  • Joanna Wysocka, Stanford University, and Licia Selleri, Cornell University
    Epigenetic landscapes and regulatory divergence of human craniofacial traits
  • Mary L. Marazita, University of Pittsburgh
    Human genomics analysis interface for Facebase 2
  • Yang Chai, University of Southern California
    Integrated Research of Functional Genomics and Craniofacial Morphogenesis
  • Trevor Williams, Joan Hooper and Kenneth Jones, University of Colorado-Denver
    Integration of gene expression and signaling in the developing facial prominences
  • Jim Brinkley, University of Washington
    Ontology-based integration, visualization and exploration of craniofacial data
  • Richard Maas, Harvard Medical School
    Rapid Identification and Validation of Human Craniofacial Development Genes
  • Ethylin Jabs, Greg Holmes and Harm van Bakel, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
    Transcriptome Atlases of the Craniofacial Sutures

NIDCR Program Staff

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is the Nation's leading funder of research on oral, dental, and craniofacial health.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

The NIDCR staff administering Facebase are:

  • Steven Scholnick (Program Officer)
  • Jeannine Helm
  • Nadya Lumelsky
  • Lillian Shum
  • Martha Somerman
  • Lu Wang

Scientific Leadership Group

Facebase also has access to the knowledge and expertise of scientists in the craniofacial domain. They are:

  • J. Michael Cherry, Stanford University
  • Melissa Haendel, Oregon Heath & Sciences Universityr
  • Phil Soriano, Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai
  • Raimond Winslow, Johns Hopkins University