Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Drug Might Help Prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Drug Might Help Prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Mice exposed to nicotinamide appeared to be protected, scientists say

TUESDAY, Feb. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Nicotinamide, a drug commonly used to treat certain autoimmune diseases, may also help prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, mouse studies suggest.

Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to a number of health problems suffered by babies born to mothers who drank alcohol during pregnancy.

In this study, researchers at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, injected alcohol into mouse pups shortly after they were born. Since mouse brain development happens a bit later than it does in humans, the brain development in newly born mice is about equivalent to that of human fetuses in the third trimester of pregnancy.

This single injection of alcohol into the newborn mice was comparable to levels a human fetus is exposed to during a bout of excessive drinking by a pregnant mother, the researchers explained. The alcohol caused the death of brain cells in the baby mice, who exhibited a number of behavioral abnormalities when they became adults.

In another group of baby mice, the researchers injected nicotinamide two hours after they injected the alcohol.

In this group of mice, the amount of brain cell death appeared to be no greater than that seen during normal brain development. The mice also showed no behavioral abnormalities in adulthood, the researchers add.

A weaker protective effect was noted when nicotinamide was injected eight hours after the alcohol injection.

While this research is in the early stages, it does suggest that nicotinamide may help protect a fetus against alcohol damage if the mother takes the drug soon after she drinks. However, the authors emphasized that the best way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is for pregnant women, or those who may become pregnant, to avoid drinking.

The study was published in the Feb. 20 issue of the Public Library of Science.