Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a significant public health problem and may result in a wide range of adverse outcomes for the child.
The National Institutes of Health continues to support research about the effects of alcohol on the unborn fetus. According to Rutgers University, Dipak Sarkar has been awarded $3.5 million dollars to fund such research.
The MERIT, Method to Extend Research in Time, Award was awarded to continue funding Sarkar's 13 year study of alcohol and the fetus. The study currently employs 16 research assistants. Sarkar believes, "Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a significant public health problem and may result in a wide range of adverse outcomes for the child."
At the heart of Sarkars study is the effect of the alcohol on the neurons of the brain. So far, the research has observed the death of these neurons from a relatively small amount of alcohol. This death is irreverisble once it occurs. "Epigenetic" changes in the cells that take care of the neurons cause the death and Sarkar hopes to learn how to reverse these "epigenetic" changes.
In addition to the health of the neurons, Sarkar and the research assistants want to break down the effects of alcohol to a molecular level. Once they are able to understand why alcohol causes neuron and cell death, they will have a starting point for the treatment of fetal alcohol syndrome.
The loss of the beta-endorphin neurons may be linked to depression, schizophrenia and obesity in adults.
Source: Rutgers University 2009