- Alcohol exposure during pregnancy may cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in infants.
- Scientists identify a blood test to predict fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Presence of maternal plasma microRNA may help to identify fetal alcohol exposure.
A research team from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Texas A&M College of Medicine and Omni-Net Birth Defects Prevention Program in Ukraine have discovered a blood test which is capable of determining the effects of alcohol exposure on the baby during pregnancy.
The study findings would help children and infants from prenatally exposed alcohol and is published in the journal PLOS ONE
‘Blood test may help to predict fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.’
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome in the baby. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a serious type of spectrum disorders which lead to a number of mental and physical disabilities in children that would affect the child's development.
Around 2-5 % of the school going children are affected with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in United States and Western Europe.
Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may result in a series of physical changes like small head, subtle differences, changes in the facial characteristics, difficulties in learning and remembering things.
Inspite of the preventive guidelines, women still consume alcohol during pregnancy and do not realise the harmful effects on the baby.
Rajesh Miranda, PhD, professor in the Texas A&M College of Medicine said,"It's a huge problem, but we might not realize the full scope because infants born with normal-looking physical features may be missed, making many cases difficult to diagnose early."
The research study was conducted on 68 pregnant women at two perinatal care clinics in Western Ukraine. Health and alcohol consumption data of the pregnant women were collected and the blood samples during second and third trimester was taken from each women for investigation.
The study findings found that moderate to high levels of alcohol exposure during pregnancy was found to cause some notable differences in the circulating RNA molecules called mRNA in the mother's blood.
These differences were significantly seen in mothers whose infants have shown some physical or behavioral changes due to alcohol in the first year of life.
Miranda said, "Collectively, our data indicate that maternal plasma miRNAs may help predict infant outcomes and may be useful to classify difficult-to-diagnose FASD subpopulations."
The reason behind the difficulty in diagnosing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is because infants with equal amounts of prenatal exposure have vastly different outcomes.
Christina Chambers, PhD, professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said, "Although it is generally true that binge-drinking during pregnancy presents the greatest risk, not all women who consume substantial amounts of alcohol in pregnancy will have a child who is clearly affected."
"That's why we examined specific biomarkers in the mother's blood in the second and third trimester of her pregnancy to determine if they are useful in identifying children who could benefit from early interventions."
Even though fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be cured, it is necessary that it is diagnosed early.
Wladimir Wertelecki, MD, leader of the research team said, "Early diagnosis is important because it permits early intervention to minimize the harm due to prenatal alcohol exposure."
"Good nutrition, better perinatal health care, lowering stress levels and infant care interventions can all improve the outcome of alcohol-affected pregnancies." he added.
Scientists conclude that further study using more number of mother and infants would help to investigate if the blood test biomarker could help in predicting long term development outcomes for children who are exposed to alcohol.