The Collaborative Initiative on FASD (CIFASD) is a global consortium of 22 research sites conducting basic, behavioral, and clinical research to better inform approaches aimed at developing effective intervention and treatment for FASD.
NOFAS is part of the collaborative providing education and outreach promoting CIFASD projects and findings.
CIFASD is supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a part of the National Institutes of Health, and directed by renowned scientist and member of the NOFAS Board of Directors, Edward Riley, PhD, Director of the Center for Behavioral Teratology at San Diego State University.
Read about current CIFASD research below and how the research is informing public health initiatives and interventions. Visit CIFASD to learn more about the collaborative’s mission, principal investigators, and participating universities and research institutes.
Edward Riley, PhD, Principal Investigator, San Diego State University
Administrative Core of the CIFASD
The more we know about what happens to the developing baby when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the better we are able to treat and prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). This project brings together people who study FASD with various methods and helps them collaborate to better understand FASD. For example, can we improve our ability to identify a person who has been exposed to alcohol during development? To reach our goals, we arrange regular meetings so that each research group knows what the other research groups are doing. We help them share resources and data. New projects are identified and assisted, which we hope will help us solve the problems of FASD faster. Our goal is to end FASD, and to help find better treatments for those who are affected.
Kenneth Lyons Jones, MD, University of California, San Diego
Many things can affect development of a child, including prenatal exposure to alcohol. Although there are no lab tests that can diagnosis FASD, there are a number of subtle physical features that may help us identify kids with FASD. Our group is creating a DVD that will be available to physicians and other healthcare providers that shows how one can examine and identify these subtle features. In addition, we are creating a telemedicine system that will allow experts to help healthcare providers in areas throughout the world who do not have the experience to diagnose FASD. We recognize that getting a diagnosis of FASD is often a major challenge for families. Given the subtlety of the physical features, many physicians do not yet have the necessary skills, which can be frustrating for parents. Our goal is to develop ways to improve diagnosis and help these families.
Christina Chambers, PhD, University of California, San Diego
Early Identification of Affected Children and Risk Factors for FASD in Ukraine
Our work focuses on learning more about nutrition in both the mother and her child with an FASD and whether improving nutrition can reduce FASD. Our first goal is to prevent FASD by urging all women to avoid alcohol while planning and during the entire pregnancy. However, unplanned pregnancies continue to happen. Our work shows that better nutrition in the mother before and during pregnancy is good for the baby, and that prenatal vitamin and mineral supplements during pregnancy may improve the infant’s growth and learning in early life, even if they have been exposed to prenatal alcohol. We continue to explore how the diet of a child with an FASD might affect that child’s growth and development. This work will help us learn more about what interventions might be helpful for children to help them reach their potential throughout life.
Sarah Mattson, PhD, San Diego State University
A Multisite Neurobehavioral Assessment Of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
We are working to identify the pattern of behavioral changes caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. We measure behavior and mental skills, such as memory, in children with FASD. Parents also provide information about their child’s behavior. We also test children with other developmental problems to find out which behavior changes are specific to FASD and which are shared with other conditions. We hope that this understanding can help us develop a faster and better way for children with FASD to be identified by health care professionals. Finally, we are studying behavior in younger children so that we can identify affected children as early as possible. Recognizing the pattern of behavioral changes in FASD and identifying affected children early could enhance treatment and improve the lives of children with FASD.
Peter Hammond, University College London
3D Facial Imaging in FASD
We are using a photograph of the face to improve our ability to identify people exposed to alcohol prenatally. We take pictures of faces from children in the U.S., South Africa and the Ukraine. In addition to children with prenatal alcohol exposure and children not exposed to alcohol, we look at the faces of children with other developmental problems. Our goal is to better understand how the face changes. The study will help us understand the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on the face and determine which features are specific to the effects of prenatal alcohol and which are shared with other conditions. Our study will also help us identify individuals with prenatal alcohol exposure at a younger age and provide a tool to screen children in the clinic. Early identification of fetal alcohol exposure could help us treat the individual and improve outcome.
Craniofacial and Central Nervous System Pathology in a Mouse FASD Model
We use a mouse model of FASD to study the effects of alcohol on the developing face and brain. Unlike human studies, work with animals allows careful control over important factors such as exposure time during development and amount of alcohol. We use sophisticated methods to image the face and the brain of animals exposed to alcohol prenatally. This helps us recognize how subtle changes in the face may tell us about the effects of alcohol on the brain. Importantly, our work has shown that alcohol can damage the face and brain when exposure occurs at times prior to when a woman usually knows she is pregnant. This has major implications for prevention efforts. If there is a chance that a woman might become pregnant, she should avoid alcohol.
Informatics Core, Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
The effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on children are complex. Alcohol affects physical, brain and behavioral development and each child may be affected in different ways. We bring together all the data from the studies of children with FASD and animal models so that we can develop an accurate picture of how alcohol during pregnancy affects the child. We are also examining how the diet of both mother and child affects FASD. This combined research will help us identify which children have been affected by alcohol, what effects were caused by alcohol, and what we can do to improve their lives. We want to make sure that we help identify the right solutions that will improve the life of your child.
Mapping the Brain, the Face, and Neurocognitive Function in FASD
Our work focuses on the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on brain development. Different parts of the brain, and connections between them, have different functions (e.g., language, decision making, learning), and some functions are more affected in individuals with FASD than others. Our work also shows that the large changes that normally occur in the brain through young adulthood are altered in those with FASD. These changes in the brain are known to be affected by experiences, experiences that may happen long after the brain is damaged by alcohol. Knowing which brain areas are most affected by prenatal alcohol will help us learn if brain development can be improved by altering experiences with specific treatments. While prevention is ideal, our findings suggest that interventions may improve the lives of children with FASD and their families, even when given later in life.
Circadian Genes, Stress Axis and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Prenatal alcohol exposure can disrupt sleep, stress responses and mood (depression). Our research focuses on how alcohol disrupts stress and daily rhythms, immune responses, and risk for cancer. This research has shown that although the body can recover from damage or disease, the loss of some nerve cells may permanently impair stress and immune systems throughout life. In addition, prenatal alcohol may alter genes important in these systems and we are measuring these genes in blood samples from children with and without FASD. These gene changes may serve as markers that help us identify children with FASD as early as possible.
Genetic approaches to understand variability in FASD facial and neural phenotypes
Understanding the genes that increase risk to FASD can help improve diagnosis and treatment of affected children. Our research studies genes in the zebrafish, because the genes are similar to those of humans. With the zebrafish, we can identify genes that may increase risk to FASD and study their complex interactions much faster than we can in humans. Our studies will also help us identify genes that protect against the harmful effects of alcohol during development. Once we have identified these genes, we will study the function of the genes to understand how they affect the actions of alcohol on the fetus. We will work together with other CIFASD researchers to better understand the role of genes in FASD.