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Mobile, Ala. (July 20, 2009)
Contact: Jessica Stephens, Office of Public Relations, 470-1682

Hunting Ways to Protect Baby If Mother Drinks

 
MOBILE - Such were recent headlines featured by national news outlets referencing a wire story from the Associated Press. The story was about how prenatal nutrients can prevent damage to the unborn exposed to alcohol, and has a direct link to Mobile, Ala., where the medical genetics team at the University of South Alabama has been investigating ways to help children with what is commonly called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
    
The Mobile team has been particularly interested in helping unborn babies of women who drink, especially those who binge-drink. Nearly 12 percent of women in the United States drink and at least 2 percent binge drink, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies. Alcohol-exposed babies may develop FASD, particularly mental retardation and severe personality alterations.
    
The Medical Genetics team led by Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki has been working in Alabama and in Ukraine where drinking is also a problem. In partnership with the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama Department of Public Health and other state and private agencies, the Mobile team obtained federal funding to establish a Statewide FASD Task Force to coordinate programs of care and prevention.
    
Likewise, with international funding, the Mobile team established a similar task force in Ukraine. The facilities developed in Ukraine foster investigations by an international FASD consortium funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct a variety of investigations by researchers from the USA, Emory University, the University of California (San Diego and Davis) and Indiana University.
    
One important finding from this research collaboration is that it is now possible to recognize FASD by prenatal ultrasound, which otherwise may be diagnosed years later. Recognition of FASD means that interventions to help babies before birth can now be explored.
     
Vitamin-like nutrients taken before conception and during early pregnancy are known to be important in the prevention of some birth defects. For example, folic acid taken before and during early pregnancy can prevent up to 70 percent of cases of spinal bifida, a cause of life-long paralysis and other disabilities.
     
The importance of preconception health in the prevention of birth defects is increasingly recognized. The Mobile team, in partnership with the CDC, coordinated the 2008 International Summit on Preconception Health held in Budapest, Hungary, and will do so again in 2010 in Brussels, Belgium. At these summits, investigators and public health experts exchange information about strategies to promptly introduce scientific advances into health promotion programs.
 
Regarding alcohol, it is true that it is best for women who can get pregnant to stop drinking. However, many cannot stop and many others binge-drink, unaware of the damaging effects on the unborn. An ongoing treatment trial in Ukraine by the NIH FASD consortium may help to resolve this problem. The trial will show whether choline, a standard vitamin-like substance that can be obtained over the counter, can prevent alcohol-induced damage to the brains of unborn babies.
 
Previous investigations of pregnant animal models exposed to alcohol discovered that feeding them choline significantly improved their offspring’s ability to learn. Should the Ukraine trial prove effective, the decade of efforts by the Mobile team will bring to Alabama a new approach to prevent FASD.
 
 
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University of South Alabama - Mobile Alabama 36688-0002 / 1 (251) 460-6101
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Date last changed: October 19, 2009 4:23 PM
http://www.southalabama.edu/healthsystem/pressreleases/2009pr/072009.html