Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a significant public health problem and may result in a wide range of adverse outcomes for the child. Many Fetal Alcohol Syndrome patients have problems coping with stress; they have learning disabilities, infections, and increased susceptibility to diseases.
These problems stem from the alcohol-induced destruction of neurons in the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. These beta-endorphin neurons produce the endorphin hormone and are particularly vulnerable during the early development of the fetus.
Rutgers University Professor Dipak Sarkar has received a $3.5 million MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue researching the damaging effects of alcohol on the nervous systems of the unborn.
The MERIT (Method to Extend Research In Time) Award will extend NIH support another 10 years for one of Sarkar’s research grants, now in its 13th year. Sarkar has five active grants that support the work of 16 research assistants, including post-doctoral students, graduate students, undergraduates, and a senior scientist, who collaborate on his research projects. Sarkar jokingly says he needs five grants “just to feed these people.”
Sarkar is a professor in the Department of Animal Science at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, director of the Endocrine Research Program, and a faculty member of the Center for Alcohol Studies. His interest in alcohol research began in 1990 when he serendipitously observed the neuron-killing effect of a small dose of alcohol while working on neuronal development.
Sarkar’s research has shown that a seemingly irreversible reduction in the number and function of beta-endorphin neurons results in a permanent impairment of stress and immune system functions throughout life. While the body often displays the ability to recover from damage or disease, this does not seem to come into play with the loss of beta-endorphin neurons.
Source: Rutgers University