A new study finds many more children than previously thought may have disabilities because their mothers drank during pregnancy. In fact, the researchers estimate that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are at least as common as autism.
MPR's Mike Mulcahy talked with Jeff Wozniak and Ruth Richardson about the effects of alcohol exposure on a fetus, what it's like living with the consequences of that exposure, and what the latest research highlights.
Using a mild electrical current to either boost or inhibit the brain’s own electrical impulses may one day help rehabilitate its function, according to researchers funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health.
In a preliminary study of 20 children and youth with cerebral palsy, the researchers found that applying an electrical current to the part of the brain unaffected by the condition resulted in a small, but significant increase in hand function for those retaining neural connections between the injured and non-injured sides of the brain.
"Maternal prenatal nutrition and the child's nutrition in the first 2 years of life (1000 days) are crucial factors in a child’s neurodevelopment and lifelong mental health. Child and adult health risks, including obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, may be programmed by nutritional status during this period...Prioritizing public policies that ensure the provision of adequate nutrients and healthy eating during this crucial time would ensure that all children have an early foundation for optimal neurodevelopment, a key factor in long-term health."
Chya* (pronounced SHY-a), who is not quite 10 years old, recently spent an unusual day at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Part of the time she was in a "cool" brain scanner while playing video games designed to test her memory and other brain-related skills. At other points, she answered lots of questions about her life and health on an iPad.
A slender Baltimore third grader who likes drawing, hip hop, and playing with her pet Chihuahua, Chya is one of more than 6800 children now enrolled in an unprecedented examination of teenage brain development. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study—or ABCD Study—will complete its 2-year enrollment period in September, and this month will release a trove of data from 4500 early participants into a freely accessible, anonymized database. Ultimately, the study aims to follow 10,000 children for a decade as they grow from 9- and 10-year-olds into young adults.
McIvor and Dr. Chester Whitley used mice to test an approach developed by Sangamo Therapeutics to splice DNA strands in a precise chromosomal spot to correct genetic deficiencies.
The corrections in this case sought to address enzyme deficiencies that are disabling and often fatal in patients with two genetic diseases, Hunter syndrome and Hurler syndrome. Diseased mice that received the gene therapy did better at maze experiments, suggesting that it could provide a safe and therapeutic benefit in humans.
Prenatal alcohol exposure affects about 7,000 newborns in Minnesota each year, and its effects remain deeply misunderstood. Children who suffer from FASD are frequently labeled as “hyperactive” and inattentive. Their symptoms are often hidden, or confused with a variety of behavioral disorders, resulting in misdiagnoses and wrong treatment. Teachers may expect children with FASD to perform like their peers, not recognizing that their brains function differently.
Only about 10 percent of children affected by prenatal alcohol exposure exhibit outward, physical anomalies, studies have found. And these features, such as a smooth upper lip, smaller head and narrow eyes, can be subtle and difficult to detect. The mental effects, too, are frequently confused with other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, affected children are often prescribed behavioral medications with serious side effects that fail to address their unique challenges, researchers say.
Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to cure a disease.
"It's kind of humbling" to be the first to test this, said Madeux, who has a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome. "I'm willing to take that risk. Hopefully it will help me and other people."
Signs of whether it's working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.
"We know from global research that the early part of life is critical and it’s partly because so much of brain development and the developmental processes that depend on nutrition and stimulation early in life…We know that those early days are important not only because you’re constructing your body and mind but because you’re learning so rapidly about the way the world works and you do carry that forward.
Those tools are what give you the capacity for overcoming challenges in the rest of your life. You’re always learning. Resilience isn’t some fixed thing. Your capacity for doing well and handling adversity is always changing because people are always changing and you’re learning and developing but there’s something really important about that foundation. "