November 21, 2014

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Someone recently sent me a newspaper article by Associated Press reporter Dan Joling who covered a startling new program of combating Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Alaska.

Stephen Jacquier, a doctoral candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, wanted to graphically demonstrate to high school students just how seriously alcohol can damaged a fetus. Mice, having only a twenty day gestation period, were the perfect specimens.

Under a protocol approved by the University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the students fed pregnant mice, on the ninth day of their pregnancy, a quantity of alcohol which would be the equivalent of one human being's drinking bout - a .20 blood alcohol level. The students see for themselves the immediate effects of a single drunken episode. The normally agile animals stumbled, rolled onto their backs helplessly, or simply passed out, oblivious to whatever was being done to them. "This can happen to you at a party," warns Jacquier. The mice recover from that one bout and then, on the nineteenth day of the pregnancy, the students perform a cesarean section on the mice. The results are astonishing.

A mouse may have a flipper where a paw belongs; bones are fused, where there should be an eyeball there is no eye socket but just a little hole in its head. Sometimes the brain sticks out of the top of the head or limbs are missing.

At the conclusion of the experiment, the students write reports and put on seminars for other students and for various sobriety meetings.

Alaska has the highest incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the nation. The national average is nearly one birth per one thousand deliveries; Alaska's average is nearly 1.5 births per thousand deliveries. The problem had become so serious that Jacquier's dramatic presentation was needed to make an impression. It seems to have worked. The message is finally getting across.

Alcohol and pregnancy are a disastrous combination and even one bout of drinking can destroy a fetus' future. "The students have produced with their own hands proof that this is so." says Jacquier. No amount of parental nagging could possibly have the impact that such a demonstration provides.

Nobody likes to see animals killed for medical experimentation: but in this case, the mice have died an honorable death. It is a program that needs to be implemented in our other 49 states.