redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Drinking during pregnancy can have a severe, adverse effect on the central nervous systems of children after birth, researchers from Poland have discovered.
The study, which was presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), looked at 200 children who were exposed to alcohol during their fetal stage, as well as 30 other kids whose mothers did not drink while pregnant or during lactation.
The researchers used a trio of different MRI techniques in order to study the brain development of both groups of subjects. First, they used standard MRI scans to observe the size and shape of the corpus callosum, which is a group of nerve fibers that oversees communication between the two halves of the brain.
Fetal alcohol exposure is believed to be one of the primary causes of impaired development of the corpus callosum, and sure enough, the MRI scans revealed those who had been exposed to alcohol had “statistically significant thinning of the corpus callosum“¦ compared with the other group,” the RSNA said in a statement.
They also used diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) to study six areas of the central nervous system in both groups. The DWI technique maps the diffusion of water in the brain and can be more successful in detecting tissue abnormalities than regular MRI scans, the researchers explained.
Again, children who had been exposed to alcohol “exhibited statistically significant increases in diffusion on DWI” than their counterparts — an indication there had been damage to the brain tissue, or the presence of neurological disorders, according to Dr Andrzej Urbanik, chair of the Department of Radiology at Jagiellonian University.
Finally, they used proton (hydrogen) magnetic resonance spectroscopy (HMRS) to study the metabolism in the youngsters’ brains. The results uncovered “a high degree of metabolic changes that were specific for particular locations within the brain,” according to Dr. Urbanik.
The RSNA, citing US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, reports as many as 1.5 out of every 1,000 children born alive suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, and the costs of treating those victims tops $4 billion annually in America alone.