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Fetal alcohol exposure puts key neural system at risk

[This is an example of the not-news the UW public relations department is constantly feeding to the public. Who does not know that pregnancy and alcohol do not mix? This article appears as a side bar to a larger article that is clearly nothing but an effort to paint Mary Schneider in a positive light.

Schneider's work has been increasingly criticised for its meaningless reiterations of known facts. And of course, Mary can't do her work in a vacuum. Her studies are approved annually by a UW oversight committee. Unsurprisingly, the ranking member of the committee system-- Dr Eric Sandgren --has become Schneider's champion. If Schneider's work is bogus, then the system itself must be as well.

Consider Sandgren's claims:

“We make certain the question is important, that animals have to be used and the correct species of animals is being used.”

“The question of whether it is a problem to take a few drinks during a pregnancy has not been addressed at all,” (Notice that Schneider is studying the effects of one or two drinks a day, not a few drinks during pregnancy.)

What a load...]

Campus Connection, Winter 2006


Even moderate prenatal exposure to alcohol has pronounced effects on the development and function later in life of the brain's dopamine system, which is a critical component of the central nervous system that regulates many regions of the brain, according to UW –Madison researchers.

A team of researchers led by Mary L. Schneider, professor of occupational therapy, kinesiology, and psychology, reported on the latest findings in Schneider's ongoing studies of fetal alcohol exposure, in the September 15, 2005 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study was conducted at UW–Madison's Harlow Center for Biological Psychology and funded by the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. It looked at the effects of moderate drinking on the offspring of three groups of pregnant rhesus macaques, which were provided access to moderate amounts of alcohol during various stages of gestation. A control group was not exposed to alcohol.

Schneider's team found that pregnant monkeys who consumed the equivalent of just one or two drinks a day altered the dopamine systems of their offspring. Dopamine is a key chemical messenger that helps the brain perform functions ranging from simple movement to cognition to facilitating feelings of enjoyment and motivation. Abnormalities in the functioning of the system can contribute to such things as addiction; issues of memory, attention and problem solving; and more-pronounced conditions such as schizophrenia.

The influence of alcohol on the dopamine system, depending on the timing of exposure during gestation, varies, but illustrates yet another biological consequence of drinking while pregnant.

“It appears that there is no safe time to drink,” says Schneider, one of the nation's leading researchers on this subject. “And because our study looked at the effects of lower doses of alcohol than most previous studies, the results suggest there is no safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy. Even moderate drinking can have effects that persist to adulthood.”

These findings add to a growing list of alcohol's negative effects on the developing fetus. In the last 30 years, scientists have found that prenatal exposure to alcohol, the drug most widely abused by pregnant women, leads to a host of health and development issues, including low birth weight, facial deformities and mental retardation.

“This is a big problem,” says Schneider. “People have been drinking since Biblical times, but it's only been within the last few decades that we've begun to understand the effects of drinking on fetal health.”

Madison's Hidden Monkeys is a joint project of the
Alliance for Animals and the
Primate Freedom Project