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UC San Diego Researchers Develop Potential Blood Test For Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Photo credit: Kenny Goldberg

Dr. Ken Jones, pediatrician and chief of UC San Diego Medical Center's Division of Dysmorphology/Teratology, examines a baby for signs of fetal alcohol syndrome in this undated photo.

UC San Diego researchers say they've come up with a blood test that could help diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome in utero.

It's one of the leading causes of birth defects. And it's entirely preventable.

Yet there's no definite diagnostic test for fetal alcohol syndrome.

The syndrome is one of a spectrum of disorders caused by alcohol use during pregnancy.

Researchers at UC San Diego and the Texas A&M School of Medicine have identified a blood test that could help predict how severely a baby may be affected by alcohol use during pregnancy.

Their study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

In the study, researchers looked at the birth outcomes of 68 pregnant women in Ukraine. They found that moderate to heavy drinking during early pregnancy produced changes in some small RNA molecules in maternal blood. These differences were pronounced in moms whose babies showed developmental problems at the one-year mark.

Christina Chambers, professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and co-author of the study, said more research is needed to confirm their results.

“It’s just promising in terms of filling this huge void that we have in the whole area of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders of not being able to identify affected kids early," she said.

Chambers pointed out most children with fetal alcohol syndrome, if they're identified at all, aren't diagnosed until they reach school age.

"And so we’ve missed five or six years of important opportunity to intervene with those children and to improve outcomes,” she said.

An estimated 2 to 5 percent of school children in the United States are affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

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