Nav: Home

Blood test may help identify fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

November 09, 2016

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Texas A&M College of Medicine and the Omni-Net Birth Defects Prevention Program in Ukraine have identified a blood test that may help predict how severely a baby will be affected by alcohol exposure during pregnancy, according to a study published November 9 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Study authors say the findings could facilitate early intervention to improve the health of infants and children who were prenatally exposed to alcohol.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a severe form of a spectrum of mental and physical disabilities called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) that can affect children's development with long-lasting consequences. In the United States and Western Europe, it's estimated that 2 to 5 percent of school-age children are affected by FASD. In some parts of the world, the number is higher.

Children and adults affected by FASD may experience a range of symptoms, from physical changes like a small head and subtle differences in facial characteristics to learning difficulties and behavioral issues.

Despite widespread prevention guidelines, drinking during pregnancy still occurs, in part because roughly half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned and many women may not realize that they need to stop consuming alcohol before harm occurs.

"It's a huge problem," said Rajesh Miranda, PhD, professor in the Texas A&M College of Medicine and co-senior author of the study, "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."

Seeking to develop a predictive test using biomarkers, researchers looked at birth outcomes for 68 pregnant women enrolled in the study at two perinatal care clinics in western Ukraine. The team obtained detailed health and alcohol consumption histories and second and third trimester blood samples from each woman. The results indicated that moderate to high levels of alcohol exposure during early pregnancy resulted in significant differences in some circulating small RNA molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs) in maternal blood. These differences were particularly notable in mothers whose infants showed some physical or neurobehavioral signs of alcohol effects in the first 12 months of life.

"Collectively, our data indicate that maternal plasma miRNAs may help predict infant outcomes and may be useful to classify difficult-to-diagnose FASD subpopulations," Miranda said.

Part of the reason FASD can be difficult to diagnose is because infants with similar amounts of prenatal alcohol exposure may have vastly different outcomes.

"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," said Christina Chambers, PhD, professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine, principal investigator on the Ukraine project and co-senior author.

"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."

Although FASD cannot be cured, early diagnosis is vital. "Early diagnosis is important because it permits early intervention to minimize the harm due to prenatal alcohol exposure," said Wladimir Wertelecki, MD, research team leader in Ukraine. "Good nutrition, better perinatal health care, lowering stress levels and infant care interventions can all improve the outcome of alcohol-affected pregnancies."

The scientists said their next steps will include repeating the investigation in other, larger samples of mothers and infants, and determining if these early markers are predictive of longer term developmental outcomes for children exposed to alcohol.

"If we can reset developmental trajectories earlier in life, it is a lot easier than trying to treat disabilities later in life," Miranda said. "We hope this work will lead to a test that can allow health care providers to identify the mothers and infants most at risk and provide them with extra care for the best outcome possible."
-end-
Co-authors of the paper include: Sridevi Balarama, and Alexander M. Tseng, Texas A&M Health Science Center; and Lyubov Yevtushok, and Natalya Zymak-Zakutnya, Omni-Net Ukraine Birth Defects Prevention Program.

University of California - San Diego

Related Pregnancy Articles:

Are women using e-cigarettes during preconception and/or pregnancy?
A new study of 1,365 racially/ethnically diverse, low-income pregnant women found that 4% reported e-cigarette use.
A better pregnancy test for whales
To determine whale pregnancy, researchers have relied on visual cues or hormone tests of blubber collected via darts, but the results were often inconclusive.
Cannabis use during pregnancy
The large health care system Kaiser Permanente Northern California provides universal screening for prenatal cannabis use in women during pregnancy by self-report and urine toxicology testing.
Questions and answers about cannabis use during pregnancy
A new study shows that women have many medical questions about the use of cannabis both before and during pregnancy, and during the postpartum period while breastfeeding.
The effect of taking antidepressants during pregnancy
Exposure to antidepressants during pregnancy and the first weeks of life can alter sensory processing well into adulthood, according to research in mice recently published in eNeuro.
Is ivermectin safe during pregnancy?
Is it safe to give ivermectin to pregnant women? To answer this question, researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institution supported by 'la Caixa,' conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies that reported cases of accidental exposure to the drug among pregnant women.
Going to sleep on your back in late pregnancy
This study looked at whether going to sleep on your back in the third trimester of pregnancy was associated with average lower birth weights.
Opioid use disorder in pregnancy: 5 things to know
Opioid use is increasing in pregnancy as well as the general population.
Medical imaging rates during pregnancy
Researchers looked at rates of medical imaging (CT, MRI, conventional x-rays, angiography, fluoroscopy and nuclear medicine) during pregnancy in this observational study that included nearly 3.5 million pregnant women in the United States and Canada from 1996 to 2016.
New research on diet and supplements during pregnancy and beyond
The foods and nutrients a woman consumes while pregnant have important health implications for her and her baby.
More Pregnancy News and Pregnancy Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.