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Swimming in Alcohol - the Effects on the Child in the Womb

Fetal alcohol syndrome lecture with Professor Kathleen Sulik

Professor Kathleen Sulik lectured on the effects of alcohol during fetal brain development and highlighted the importance of increased knowledge and preventitive measures.


Title: Swimming in Alcohol- the Effects on the Child in the Womb

On August 25-26, the Gillberg Centre had the honour of welcoming Professor Kathleen Sulik from North Carolina University, USA. Kathleen Sulik is an internationally renowned expert on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). She gave two talks on the effects of alcohol on the developing brain, emphasising, increased knowledge and awareness as well as prevention.

child in the foetus
Photo: ancroft/

Working with mouse models and using two techniques: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) – Sulik and her team examine brains of mice that have been exposed to alcohol in early stages of their mother’s pregnancy. The brain is vulnerable to alcohol at virtually every stage of development and alcohol exposure at different stages causes specific types of damage. A mouse embryo exposed to alcohol during the 7th day of its mother’s pregnancy displays facial features and brain damages consistent with classical Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). What can be found in mice labs, Sulik says, is directly applicable to human conditions. The 7th day in a mouse pregnancy corresponds to about the 17th day of development in human embryos. This is at a time when most women have not yet realised that they are pregnant. The knowledge that alcohol can affect the brain at a very early stage in pregnancy, before most women even know that they are pregnant, speaks in favour of pre-pregnancy planning. Finishing her lecture Professor Sulik talked about prevention and the importance of teaching children and young people about the permanently damaging effects that alcohol can have in very early stages of embryonic development.

Professor Sulik underlined the importance of putting resources into prevention, as the costs – both human and economic – of dealing with the consequences of alcohol-related damages are significant. As there is no universal “safe” level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, Sulik advocates abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy.

Women holding wine bottle and glass of wine