Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 07/11/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 07/11/2013 6:24 AM | Updates
CALL it the Angelina Jolie gene for FASD.
Scientists at the University of Manitoba have just won a $1.3-million grant to find the genetic markers for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a brain injury caused by women who drink while pregnant that can condemn a child to a life of behavioural and cognitive problems.
That could in turn produce the holy grail of FASD -- a simple, cheap blood or tissue test that can determine whether people, especially newborns, suffer from the disorder. Then, targeted programs could start right away, which could dramatically improve a child's chances of a happy, productive life.
-- lead researcher Jim Davie
"There is a lot of excitement around this," said lead researcher Jim Davie, an epigeneticist based out of the Manitoba Institute of Child Health. "I think the chances of us finding something are pretty high."
A genetic test would also begin to answer a troubling question that has long plagued FASD experts: How many people have the disorder? No reliable count exists, though experts believe it is more common than Down syndrome and autism combined.
Unlike the BRAC1 mutation, the one linked to breast cancer made famous recently by celebrity Angelina Jolie, the FASD research involves epigenetics, the study not of a mutation but of how outside factors, such as alcohol, affect how a gene works.
Davie said alcohol's effects are myriad. The trick is to pick a few of the best indicators and build a test around those.
The research involves about five different projects, including lab work on mice, frogs and even on a collection of autopsy brains of people who had FASD.
Currently, diagnosing FASD is a long process of cognitive and behavioural tests. It relies, to a large degree, on an admission by a mother that she drank while pregnant -- a tough thing to do. In Manitoba, only children can get a diagnosis, and most aren't sent for testing until they're already failing in school, acting out or even involved in crime. Adults are out of luck.
Once a diagnosis is made and the nature of the brain injury is understood, things such as school, job-training, life skills, speech and occupational therapy and counselling can be tailored to each child.
At some point, the U of M research team will need to see if the genetic test works in the general population. Community health researcher Brenda Elias has begun laying the groundwork for that. She is working with First Nations that are part of the Southeast Resource Development Council on research that looks beyond the genetics at how other factors such as nutrition, income and education affect how FASD manifests itself.
The participating First Nations haven't been chosen yet, but they could become the first communities to try out the new genetic test to ensure it is effective.
"On the horizon, we are going to be able to make a difference in people's lives," said Elias. "If we can find people with FASD early, we can intervene early."
Davie said it could take about a decade for any lab discoveries to end up in doctors' hands for everyday use. Once the science is settled, there are other policy hurdles such as the economics of such a test, how easy it is for clinicians to use, whether parents would agree to a test if it reveals the mother drank and ensuring the proper help is available to people whose tests come back positive.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2013 A3
Updated on Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 6:24 AM CDT: replaces photo
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Home invader sentenced
Funding flows for northern water projects
Hark! The workplace choirs sing... for charity
Pallister arms non-confidence motion with words from dissident NDP MLAs
Panel ending inquiry into Manitoba judge in nude photos case since she's retiring
Harper announces new National Research Council facility for Winnipeg
Renamed Roy Davis Park gets its previous name back
Patrick Chan, Kurt Browning among skating stars who will perform at MTS Centre in May
WAG screening witty commercials as part of show about creativity in communications
Majority of older Canadians feel homegrown terrorism serious threat: poll
No interest on loans will benefit more than 27,000 students: province
Councillors question WAC's request for 12 per cent funding boost
Schools cancel classes due to power outages
Groundbreaking teen, organizer of integrated prom, visits CMHR
Teen pleads guilty in fatal 2011 stabbing
Bird poop, leaking roofs damaging legislature
Mayor meets with editorial board at News Café Tuesday
Life lessons for Santa Paws
Faculty group fears deep budget cuts to arts, sciences
Brilliantly performed Fidelio evokes tears, shouts of 'bravo'
And now, back to winter
Transgender girl's complaint goes ahead despite move
Police say little about dentist accused of assaulting boys
Feds pump cash into military
Minnedosa seniors not forgotten
CanU? U of M volunteer sure can
Fewer students, more teachers