Funding support received by a leading Curtin University researcher will help to shed new light on the impact of maternal alcohol consumption on the health and development of children.
Dr Colleen O’Leary, from the University’s Centre for Population Health Research, has received two grants that recognise the critical importance of her research in this area: a $50,000 grant from the McCusker Foundation and a New Independent Research Infrastructure Support (NIRIS) award of $10,000 from the WA Department of Health.
Dr O’Leary is a chief investigator on a National Health and Medical Research Council-funded longitudinal study examining the effect of low and moderate prenatal alcohol exposure on the developing child. The McCusker Foundation funding will help extend this study, which is recruiting pregnant women in their first trimester and following the progress of their children until three years of age.
“The McCusker funding is enabling us to implement new initiatives, such an on-call system for specialist research midwives to attend the births of the women within our study group and collect biosamples from the newborn baby,” she said.
“This will enable us to examine whether low and moderate prenatal alcohol exposure modifies the DNA of a child. The better we are able to understand the specific risk to the baby, the better we can inform pregnant women how to manage those risks.”
The funding from the WA Department of Health will assist a separate data linkage study that is examining the longer-term impact of maternal drinking on child health and development. The study is drawing on routinely collected administrative health data to investigate the problems experienced by mothers with an alcohol-use disorder and their children. The birth data of these children is linked with data from health, education, justice and child protection sources, using new methods to remove identifying information and protect the privacy of the families involved.
It will provide new information on the extent of health and developmental problems in the children of mothers with alcohol-related problems – effectively the first population measure of alcohol-related harm in Australian children.
“Existing research shows that children exposed to heavy maternal drinking, either in-utero or during their childhood, are at an increased risk of poor health and development,” Dr O’Leary explained.
“Children prenatally exposed to alcohol are at risk of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, an umbrella term encompassing a range of foetal alcohol effects such as language and cognitive delay, and behavioural and mental health problems.
“However, we have no population measure of the impact of maternal alcohol consumption on the children. With the high rate of heavy drinking by women of childbearing age and with around 50 per cent of pregnant women drinking alcohol during pregnancy, it is important to determine the range of social, behavioural and medical risks associated with maternal alcohol consumption.”
Dr Colleen O’Leary, Research Associate, Population Health Research, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 1853 Email: Colleen.OLeary@curtin.edu.au
Hillary Lambert, Public Relations, Curtin University Tel: 08 9266 9085 Email: Hillary.firstname.lastname@example.org