A drug to protect unborn babies from the harm caused their mother’s excessive drinking is a step closer, with the discovery of a specific way to block alcohol’s toxicity.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation in children in the US, affecting up to three babies in every 1000 births. While stopping drinking is the most obvious solution, alcoholic mothers can find this very difficult – motivational programs have historically only been about 30 per cent effective.

A protective drug remains some years away, but the latest research shows how the fetal brain could specifically be shielded from alcohol. Michael Charness at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues found that a protein fragment called NAP stops alcohol from thwarting neurons’ ability to connect to each other during brain development.
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