Researchers at UNM's Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions (CASAA), in collaboration with the University of North Carolina's Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) and Stellenbosch University (SU) in South Africa, are initiating a continuation grant focused on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). The study will be led by Philip May, UNM professor emeritus and nutrition researcher at the NRI and research professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

The UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in Kannapolis, N.C., has received a $5.3 million grant to study fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in South Africa with a portion of those funds allocated to researchers at UNM/CASAA and SU. The funds were awarded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), one of the National Institutes of Health.

Through their research in two South African communities, this team will expand the scientific understanding of the characteristics and patterns of FASD. Research by this collaborative group has been ongoing in South Africa since 1997 and has resulted in the identification of the highest rates of FASD in the world. Because we have identified many affected children, a portion of this ongoing research will be focused on improving the lives of young children affected by FAS through developmental and nutritional interventions.

In South Africa, up to 20 percent of the population is estimated to be affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, a result of mothers' drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Children with FASD suffer from birth defects ranging from learning disabilities to neurological, behavioral and social deficits. Symptoms often include poor coordination, speech and language delays, hyperactive behavior or poor memory.

As part of the research study, May and his team hope to achieve five primary objectives:

  • Identify effective methods for early intervention in children and identify alcohol use in the prenatal period

  • Compare results from alcohol biomarker (EtG and FAEE) tests and self-reported alcohol use in the prenatal period

  • Establish and complete a detailed case control study of maternal nutrition (utilizing biomarkers and reported dietary intake) in the prenatal period

  • Continue to research the developmental trajectory of FASD from birth to seven years

  • Collect data to assess any impact a comprehensive prevention model may have had on FASD risk factors

  • The collaborative project staff believes that this research will bring new understanding of FASD across the lifespan of a child. These new understandings regarding FASD in the South African populations have broad implications for public health in other human populations.

Media Contact: Steve Carr (505) 277-1821; email: