Using animal models, scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago were able to reverse learning and memory deficits resulting from exposure to alcohol in utero. The scientists administered thyroxine (a hormone that is reduced in pregnant women who drink and in infants with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) or metformin (an insulin sensitizing drug that lowers blood sugar levels, which is higher in alcoholics) to rat pups exposed to alcohol in utero, in the 10 days immediately after they were born. Based on these findings, they will conduct a clinical trial with pregnant women in South Africa.
Dr. Eva Redei, one of the scientists involved in the study believes that such options are necessary for women with alcohol use disorders, or those who drink before they know they are pregnant. In a recent newspaper interview, Dr. James Reynolds at Queen’s University in Canada said he doubts that this will be a cure for FASD, but that studies like this one could give us more clues as to how alcohol affects development.
Other important voices are community-based prenatal program providers and mothers of children with FASD who see that medical interventions, should they be found to be effective, are likely to be only a part of the picture, and that a range of prevention efforts will always be needed.
Whether or not learning and memory deficits can be reversed through hormonal and insulin interventions in the future, there are many other health deficits resulting from alcohol-exposed pregnancies that remain and that may not respond to this treatment (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160106091842.htm ).
Consequently, even if this new clinical trial shows positive outcomes, FASD prevention efforts that support women’s decision making about alcohol use, and prevention efforts that influence the social determinants of women’s health will still be needed.
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