Public release date: 11-Nov-2005
Contact: Nancy Dorrance
New 'eye movement' test may help treat fetal alcohol
Tool is more objective, accurate in identifying
children affected by
KINGSTON, Ont. – A simple test that measures eye movement may
help to identify children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
and ultimately lead to improved treatment for the condition, say
Queen's University researchers.
At present there are no objective diagnostic tools that can be
used to distinguish between children with FASD – which affects approximately
one per cent of children in Canada – and those with other developmental
disorders such as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Researcher James Reynolds and graduate student Courtney Green,
of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and the Centre
for Neuroscience Studies, will present their findings next week
at the annual meeting of the international Society for Neuroscience
in Washington, D.C.
"Having a set of tests that can be used as diagnostic tools for
fetal alcohol syndrome and all of the other behavioural disorders
classified under the broader term fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
is tremendously valuable," says Dr. Reynolds, who is part of a $1.25-million
Queen's-led team focusing on fetal alcohol syndrome, funded by the
Canadian Institutes of Health Research. "Now we can begin to identify
specific deficits in these children."
Many of the behavioural tests used to assess children with FASD
are geared to white, middle-class English-speaking people, notes
Ms Green. "The biggest problem [in current tests] is cultural insensitivity,"
she says. "By measuring eye movement we can cut across cultural
barriers and provide objectivity in identifying the disorder."
In a pilot study involving 25 girls and boys aged eight to 12,
the Queen's team found that children with FASD have specific brain
abnormalities which can be measured with eye movement testing. Defined
as "birth defects resulting from a mother's consumption of alcohol
during pregnancy", fetal alcohol syndrome is associated with hyperactivity,
difficulty in learning and deficits in memory, understanding and
reasoning, as well as problems dealing with stressful situations.
The next stage of the Queen's research will be to make the eye
movement test mobile and transport it to targeted areas, such as
northern and rural parts of Ontario, where FASD is believed to be
more prevalent. The researchers envision this as a multi-centre
project, in which other participants will work from the same set
of pooled data.
"There is a clear need to develop new tools that can be used to
reliably and objectively measure the brain injury of FASD," says
Dr. Reynolds. "Ideally, these tools need to be mobile, inexpensive,
and easy to use, for both diagnosis and the long-term evaluation
of therapeutic interventions. Eye movements are ideally suited for
Using the new functional MRI facility at Queen's, the team will
then be able to measure differences in brain activity between children
with fetal alcohol syndrome and those with other developmental disorders
such as ADHD.
"Having access to this facility will have a huge impact on our
research program," Dr. Reynolds says. "It allows us to create an
integrated research strategy for carrying out studies to provide
functional brain imaging data that can be directly related to neuro-behavioural
deficits in individual children with FASD."
Nancy Dorrance, Queen's News & Media Services, 613-533-2869 Therese
Greenwood, Queen's News & Media Services, 613-533-6907
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