Study investigates Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in adults

Department news | April 29, 2021

Epidemiological evidence suggests that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) may have a prevalence of up to 5% in the population, but it is rarely diagnosed in adulthood. There are no recognized treatment protocols because, despite decades of research on the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, scientific study of adults with FASD is almost unknown.

A research team led by Therese Grant, PhD, is studying the health and neurobehavior of adults diagnosed with FASD by locating and recruiting individuals with FASD and controls who participated in research twenty years ago at the UW Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit (FADU) under the leadership of Ann Streissguth, PhD.

The team is collecting demographic and health information from 250 people and conducting in-depth assessment of physical characteristics, immune function, mental health, cognitive functioning, and social/adaptive functioning among 120 of them. Colleagues at Emory University are conducting a parallel collaborative study. The goals are to determine the persistence and severity of disability associated with FASD and refine diagnostic criteria for FASD among adults.

In October 2020, the team received a NIH/NIAAA Administrative Supplement allowing them to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the adult participants in the parent grant. COVID-19 presents significant risks for this cohort, including health outcomes and environmental stressors resulting from the pandemic. So far, there is no information about the impact of COVID-19 for individuals with disabilities in general or FASD in particular, despite the likelihood that such impaired individuals will have greater difficulty in understanding and implementing social distancing and other safety measures that are necessary to reduce their risk of infection. Concurrent with the above study and in collaboration with researchers at San Diego State University, the team is recruiting 90 FASD-diagnosed individuals and controls who had previous MRI scans conducted in earlier studies at the UW. Comparisons between current and earlier scans will provide insight into changes in brain structure and function with age.

In addition to Dr. Grant, the UW research team includes Sandra Radin, PhD, Susan Stoner, PhD, Margaret Adam, MD, Kathryn Kelly, Tim Smith-Stewart and Kristina Rowlett.