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Imaging study sheds new light on alcohol-related birth defects
Date:8/22/2012

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. A collaborative research effort by scientists at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Duke University, and University College of London in the UK, sheds new light on alcohol-related birth defects.

The project, led by Kathleen K. Sulik, PhD, a professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology and the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at UNC, could help enhance how doctors diagnose birth defects caused by alcohol exposure in the womb. The findings also illustrate how the precise timing of that exposure could determine the specific kinds of defects.

"We now know that maternal alcohol use is the leading known and preventable cause of birth defects and mental disability in the United States," Sulik said. "Alcohol's effects can cause a range of cognitive, developmental and behavioral problems that typically become evident during childhood, and last a lifetime."

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is at the severe end of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). First described in 1972, FAS is recognized by a specific pattern of facial features: small eyelid openings, a smooth ridge on the upper lip (absence of a central groove, or philtrum), and a thin upper lip border.

In its full-blown state, FAS affects roughly 1 in 750 live births in the U.S. And while clinicians typically look for those classical facial features in making a diagnosis, within the broader classification of FASD "adverse outcomes vary considerably and most individuals don't exhibit the facial characteristics that currently define FAS," said the study's lead author Robert J. Lipinski, PhD, a postdoctoral scientist in Sulik's lab. "This study could expand the base of diagnostic criteria used by clinicians who suspect problems caused by maternal alcohol use."

In their animal-based studies, the Sulik lab team has collaborated with co-author G. Allan Johnson, PhD and his group at Duke University's Center for In Vivo Mic
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Contact: Tom Hughes
tahughes@unch.unc.edu
919-966-6047
University of North Carolina Health Care
Source:Eurekalert  

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