The 14th annual meeting of the Fetal Alcohol Canadian Expertise (FACE) research meeting was held in St. John’s last weekend.
Susan Santiago, who has been co-ordinating the meetings from the beginning, says there was some very interesting research presented with regards to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
One of the most encouraging signs is the amount of attention FASD is getting compared to 14 years ago when the inaugural meeting took place, Santiago said.
“I can tell you that when we started this back in 2000 we were the only ones who were talking about the research on a national level. Now there’s a lot of activity.”
And perhaps some of the most promising aspects of that research activity was presented by keynote speaker, Dr. James Reynolds of Queen’s University. It’s been 40 years since doctors put together that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix, Santiago said, and Reynold was asked to give the story of how research has developed over the years.
“I think probably one of the most interesting things he was able to outline in his presentation is what we’re learning about the potential beneficial effects of nutrition and exercise,” sid Santiago.
In Canada, she added, we’re getting better at least identifying FASD, which is no easy task.
“But then what? What do you do?”
Reynolds gave some hopeful messages about what can be done to curb the effects FASD has on cognitive development and behavioral disabilities. The research deals with a B-complex vitamin called choline and also the benefits of exercise — things that can get the brain to renew itself.
“He highlighted the brain’s plasticity. The fact that you can rebuild connections in the brain. Neurons and synapse,” said Santiago.
But the brain has to be fed and exercised properly to do so, she adds.
Along with such hopeful messages there was also confirmation of less positive research that’s equally as important in order to understand, identify and treat FASD. The brain isn’t the only target.
“Prenatal exposure to alcohol can affect not just the brain but all organs of the body,” Santiago said.
About 100 people were in attendance at the St. John’s meeting, a number that impressed Santiago. The meeting is held in a different city each year.