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'U' Announces Breakthrough Study On Treating Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It is considered to be the most serious substance to unborn babies. Doctors believe they're only beginning to understand the problems drinking alcohol while pregnant will lead to. But, as we found breakthroughs here at home will mean some kids will face brighter futures.

"We always like to reiterate the message that there is no safe time for alcohol consumption during pregnancy," professor Jeff Wozniak said.

Wozniak and the University of Minnesota have dedicated a decade to trying to change the course for kids suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, known as FASD.

"I think this is an important step that shows we can actually alter the trajectory of brain development," Wozniak said.

RELATED: Doctor Warns Alcohol Is The Most Dangerous Substance To Unborn Babies

New findings recently published in a medical journal point to promise. As part of the study, 2- to 5-year-olds prenatally exposed to alcohol began drinking a nutrient daily called choline. Now, as some turned 10, Wozniak brought them back to compare the kids taking the choline with those drinking a placebo.

"When we look further out, what we see are differences that are more pronounced, more noticeable," Wozniak said.

Cognitive tests proved the kids taking the choline had improvements in memory, concentration, and problem solving.

"It's validating to see what we predicted would happen over the very long-term does seem to be happening," Wozniak said. "This is the first step that an intervention can be powerful."

RELATED: 'There Is No Safe Amount': Advocates Raise Awareness For Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

FASD is now believed to be more common than even autism spectrum disorders. One study found as many as one in 20 first graders suffer from the behavioral and judgment problems it causes. Wozniak says drinking even in the first few weeks of a pregnancy is enough. It's why he hopes for the kids where it's too late, his solution may soon be considered for widespread use.

"Changing something small earlier on can have big effects later on," Wozniak said.

The U of M team hopes federal funding will come through that will allow them to continue to follow the same group of kids in this study for years to come.

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