Researchers have identified a blood test that may help predict how severely a newborn can be affected by alcohol exposure during pregnancy. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is a severe form of mental and physical disabilities. 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 behavioural issues.The study showed 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 neurobehavioural signs of alcohol effects in the first 12 months of life.
“Maternal plasma miRNAs may help predict infant outcomes and may be useful to classify difficult-to-diagnose FASD subpopulations,” said Rajesh Miranda, Professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine. Although FASD cannot be cured, early diagnosis is vital. “Early diagnosis is important because it permits early intervention to minimise the harm due to prenatal alcohol exposure,” said Wladimir Wertelecki from Omni-Net Birth Defects Prevention Program 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 researchers stated. For the study, researchers looked at birth outcomes for 68 pregnant women from western Ukraine. The team 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.