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Alcohol in Early Pregnancy May Prompt Fetal Cell Death

Even a few glasses of wine enough to disrupt normal development, mouse study finds

FRIDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Just a few glasses of wine over a short period in early pregnancy may cause fetal problems, suggest researchers from the Medical College of Georgia.

The initial signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, which affects one in 1,000 babies, include facial malformations such as a flat and high upper lip, small eye openings, and a short nose. Researchers are investigating whether these signs can help determine how much alcohol at what point in pregnancy may cause fetal problems.

Supported by a grant from the March of Dimes, Erhard Bieberich, a biochemist in the Medical College of Georgia Schools of Medicine and Graduate Studies, and his colleagues are focusing on how alcohol consumption affects neural crest cells, which help form the upper part of the skull, in mice.

Specifically, the researchers are comparing cell death in mice following different levels of alcohol consumption to the cell death that occurs during normal development.

There is evidence that the equivalent of just a few glasses of wine over an hour in the first few weeks of fetal life can increase cell death.

"It's well known that when you drink, you get a buzz. But a couple of hours later, that initial impact, at least, is gone," said Bieberich in a Medical College of Georgia press release. "But, your fetus may have experienced irreversible damage."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women and sexually active women not using effective birth control refrain from drinking.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about fetal alcohol syndrome.

-- Krisha McCoy

SOURCE: Medical College of Georgia, news release, Aug. 25, 2008

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