Pediatricians and obstetricians could have another scientific weapon to yield in their pursuit of protecting newborn babies who may have been exposed to alcohol in the womb because of an original study published by researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Until now, animal and human studies have shown the relationship of maternal alcohol use and adverse fetal and infant effects, but studies correlating the biomarkers of alcohol exposure in the infant to adverse effects have been limited.
“This is probably because of the absence of a biomarker of fetal exposure to alcohol, until we have shown that fatty acid ethyl esters in meconium were reliable biomarkers of fetal alcohol exposure. This finding has been corroborated thereafter by other investigators,” said Enrique Ostrea, M.D., a professor of Pediatrics and a neonatologist at Hutzel Women’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
In “Fatty acid ethyl esters in meconium: A biomarker of fetal alcohol exposure and effect,” in Experimental Biology and Medicine, Dr. Ostrea and team demonstrate in a rat model a strong correlation between fatty acid ethyl esters, or FAEE, concentration in meconium to lower fetal body and brain weight, among other adverse fetal effects.
Meconium is the earliest stool of an infant, composed of materials ingested during the time the infant spends in the uterus. When people drink alcohol, it combines with certain fatty acids in the body, and FAEEs are formed.
Maternal alcoholism is a leading cause of mental retardation in children, Dr. Ostrea said.
“Since maternal alcoholism does not always result in gross physical abnormalities, such as seen in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, quantitative FAEE in meconium may detect infants who may appear physically normal but still at risk to neurobehavioral deficits to which interventions may be helpful if initiated early enough. This further illustrates the importance of biomarkers of exposure,” he said.
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