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UNM opens new center to study FASD

The University of New Mexico has launched the nation’s only research center targeting fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, with support from an $8.1 million federal grant, the center’s director said.

Work at the New Mexico Alcohol Research Center will focus on finding better and earlier ways to diagnose and treat the disorder, which affects at least 2 percent of children born in the U.S., said Daniel Savage, chairman of UNM’s department of neurosciences.

The five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health also will help UNM researchers seek a better understanding of how alcohol damages the developing brain, said Savage, who directs the center.

“Kids who are affected by this, their potential is capped early on in terms of what they will be able to accomplish,” Savage said of fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, or FASD.

Too often, children aren’t diagnosed with the disorder until they are well into their teen years, or even early adulthood, he said.

FASD “is not easily recognized and there needs to be a greater appreciation of the challenges,” he said.

The UNM center is one of 18 NIH-funded alcohol research centers, but the only one devoted to FASD.

The center was officially formed Aug. 5 when UNM received notice of the grant award, he said.

FASD is a group of conditions caused by a woman drinking alcohol during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe learning and behavioral problems, and can cause altered physical and facial features. Research has shown that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause lifelong problems for the child with memory, attention, language and thinking skills, causing failure in school, poor job performance and even criminal behavior.

UNM was selected for the center because the university has formed a group of scientists and clinicians focused on FASD, Savage said.

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