1973

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


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It has long been suspected that pregnant women who abuse alcohol may compromise the health of their unborn children. UW professor David W. Smith and his student Kenneth Jones were the first researchers to alert the medical community to the seriousness of the problem.

It has long been suspected that pregnant women who abuse alcohol may compromise the health of their unborn children. UW professor David W. Smith and his student Kenneth Jones were the first researchers to alert the medical community to the seriousness of the problem.

Smith and colleagues defined fetal alcohol syndrome and its characteristic physical and behavior features. Their observations were first published in 1973. UW pediatrics professor Sterling Clarren, who continues research in the field, notes that when these results first came out, they were received with considerable excitement: unlike so many other birth defects that had genetic causes, here was a birth defect that was actually preventable.

Smith made the first concerted public effort to educate mothers-to-be about the hazards of alcohol abuse. UW research on the syndrome, together with a public education campaign about the findings, has led to a greater awareness among members of the public about the effects of drinking during pregnancy. As a result, many expectant mothers now avoid alcohol to protect their babies.

UW researchers developed new screening methods to detect the tell-tale signs of the syndrome and established the first Fetal Alcohol Syndrome clinic in the country. Now, similar centers are being established throughout the state and the nation. Clarren and colleagues are continuing work in public education, in addition to studying the effects of alcohol on the developing brain, and conducting behavioral studies of alcoholic mothers and their infants.

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