UI to Study Drinking During Pregnancy

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A University of Iowa research team has been awarded nearly $2 million to study the effects on unborn babies from mothers who abuse alcohol during pregnancy.

The five-year grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, will allow researchers to examine fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a wide-ranging set of adverse effects that fetuses may face from mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy. The syndrome’s symptoms include physical effects, such as lower weight, less height and smaller heads than other unborn babies, as well as mental, cognitive and behavioral disabilities.

A recent study stated that 1 in 13 pregnant women have consumed at least one alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days. Binge drinking by pregnant women also has been linked to the syndrome.

The researchers will use the $1.7 million grant to study how a pathway within the brain may guard against alcohol toxicity and whether genetics or medication may help reduce the symptoms.

“Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a major public health problem that places substantial economic burdens on society,” says Daniel Bonthius, pediatrics professor and the principal investigator on the grant. “These studies may shed light on how alcohol kills developing neurons and may identify a certain signaling pathway as a promising target for preventive interventions against FASD.“

The team previously discovered that one such pathway involves a molecule, nitric oxide.

"The objectives of the current study are to determine the mechanism by which the pathway produces its protective effect and to advance our findings beyond the laboratory, to determine whether manipulations of the pathway can be used as a therapeutic intervention,” says Bahri Karacay, associate research scientist and adjunct associate professor in the Carver College of Medicine and a co-investigator on the grant.