Aberdeen researchers have identified a gene which could play a role in causing the most severe cases of club foot.
University of Aberdeen academics carried out the research into the common condition, which affects around one baby born in every 1,000 in the UK.
Babies with the condition are born with the foot in a twisted position, facing inwards and upwards rather than flat to the floor.
It sometimes runs in families and it is known genes are involved.
Experts believe the condition is a neuro-muscular problem – a result of muscle weakness in the legs during development – but there have been difficulties pinpointing the causes due to the different things that can cause muscle weakness.
Aberdeen scientists believe they may have identified a gene in mice, which is linked to the more serious cases of club foot in humans.
The gene (Limk1) is required for normal nerve growth and has been shown to be part of a pathway of genes, one of which is already known to be linked to club foot in mice.
Professor Martin Collinson, a geneticist from the University of Aberdeen and leader of the study, said: “This is, hopefully, another piece in the puzzle.
“Our hypothesis is that probably for most human club foot patients, it’s not just one gene that goes wrong, there are probably predisposed mutations in several genes in these pathways.”
The condition requires lengthy treatment involving, putting the feet in a cast (called the Ponseti method) an operation and then wearing specialised boots joined together by a metal bar at night until the age of four or five years old.
Professor Collinson said: “The next stage is to look at DNA samples taken from human club foot patients and screen them to see if there are mutations in these pathways.
“Club foot is commonly treated successfully using the Ponseti method but it may be that the feet of children with these gene deformations will just revert back once treatment is finished.
“In theory if we could screen children for these genes before treatment starts, then they could avoid years of unnecessary interventions.”