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.
Volunteer for CIFASD Research Study
Help us to learn more about FASD! You can make a difference – We need you!
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may affect the child. The damage to the brain or body may be lasting through their lifetime. However, we don’t know enough about it. The Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD) wants to fill this gap. We strive to find and treat kids and adults exposed to alcohol before birth. At the end, we want to help doctors recognize and treat this illness, even if they are not experts in this disease. This will help families to better cope with the sickness. If you suspect that you or your child has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), or doctors diagnosed you or your child with FAS, we invite you to apply for the CIFASD research studies.
By signing up, you may help us to find new cures for the fairly common but poorly understood illness called FAS. This research study wants to create a group of people like you, and your family members, who might be exposed to alcohol before birth. You will be asked to share with us the mother’s use of alcohol when she was carrying a baby and to agree to be emailed about future research studies. Prior to this effort, only a small number of people was involved in FAS research studies. We hope to reach out to the entire community to get more input into finding a cure for kids and adults with FAS.
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.
Current Research and Lessons Learned
(All credit goes towards the researchers who did this work, read more at the cifasd publication page here)
Further development of a neurobehavioral profile of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Background: Neurological effects of FASD are clinically meaningful and can be used to distinguish between children with FASD and children with ADHD. 70% of children living with FASD are behaviorally affected.
Procedure/Findings Researchers created behavioral profiles for basic FASD, ADHD, and typically developing children. Three groups of children were behaviorally tested and observed, and compared to the behavioral profiles. The developmental condition of the children was closest to the behavioral profiles most similar to the children in around 73% of the cases tested.
Usefulness: These profiles, while not conclusively defining or correct in every case, are significantly useful for ballpark identifying a child’s developmental condition by comparing the child’s behavior to that of the profiles created.
Parietal dysfunction during number processing in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Background: FASD has been known to affect the parietal lobe of children affected, causing children with FASD to have various difficulties with tasks and especially number processing. In the past studies have found that adults with FASD have reduced activation of the parietal and medial frontal sections of the brain when compared to control groups.
Procedure/Findings: Researchers measured brain activity of South African children living with FASD with a functional MRI machine. The fMRI machine maps brain activity by monitoring blood flow through the brain while a subject completes mental tasks. Significant findings were that with increased prenatal alcohol exposure the children had less parietal blood flow and function during these tests.
Usefulness: this is the first study to demonstrate a direct effect of FASD on parietal function and number processing. This is important for educators and parents of children with FASD as it sheds light on reasons why a student could be struggling.
The Use of Cardiac Orienting Responses as an Early and Scalable Biomarker of Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Impairment.
Background: FASD is not easily diagnosed in children, especially infants, as almost all developmental disabilities are difficult to identify in early years. It is difficult to create reliable metrics for measuring developmental disabilities in children. Early detection is essential as infant neural plasticity can be used to combat early effects of FASD. A person’s orienting response is their heart rate change as a response to a change in immediate environment.
Procedure/Findings: Infants heavily exposed to alcohol during gestation were compared to infants with little to no alcohol exposure during pregnancy. At 6 and 12 months the groups were evaluated with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development-II (an established test of child development). Cardiac Orientations were also evaluated during a test, and various heart rate tests were performed.
Usefulness: The results of the cardiac orientation response testing found that the predictive values of this testing were strong in cardiac orienting response, meaning that this measure of heart rate could be used to identify presence of fetal alcohol syndrome disorders at a early age. With identification comes early treatment and