Washington: According to a review, there has been little progress in understanding the effects of alcohol on foetal development during pregnancy.
Four first-year medical students at Georgetown University School of Medicine conducted a review of literature on FAS (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome) and found that there have been little clinical changes related to the syndrome.
"Although there is a lot of research in the field to determine how alcohol acts on the developing brain, there is not much translation into the clinic," says Sahar Ismail, now a second year medical student.
"What surprised us the most was the lack of sensitive and specific diagnostic tools to identify children with FAS, given its prevalence and harmful effects on the child, family, and society."
"Not every woman who drinks alcohol will have a child with FAS, but because so much remains unknown, women are still advised not to drink any time during pregnancy," said G. Ian Gallicano, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology.
Although FAS is relatively uncommon, the less severe form of FAS – FASD (foetal alcohol spectrum disorders) is much more common, but both are entirely preventable, if only there were any medical strategies to determine the exact developmental phases in which alcohol has these specific effects on the foetus.
Alcohol is particularly detrimental to a foetal brain, because of its complex blood networks and can cause dramatic and irreversible effects on the foetus, such as developmental delay, head and facial irregularities, seizures, hyperactivity, attention deficits, cognitive deficits, learning and memory impairments, poor psychosocial functioning, facial irregularities, and motor coordination deficits.
At this point, there is no treatment or specific and sensitive diagnostic tools to diagnose FAS early in pregnancy or early after birth. However, research is underway to find biomarkers that can inform physicians if a pregnant woman is using, or chronically abusing, alcohol. Still, the authors say there is comparatively little investigation on these ideas.
Although there is vast research in this area, clinical strategies to reverse the effects of alcohol are not foreseeable in the near future, the authors say.
The study is published in the issue of Developmental Neuroscience.