Director's Column

Volume 20, Number 1, March 2009


photo of Fulton Crews, PhD
Dr. Fulton T. Crews
Director, Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies

The recent meeting was a great opportunity for UNC students and scientists to interact with the CIFASD faculty. The CIFASD is a model for translational research, bench to bedside and bedside to bench. The consortium is making remarkable advances in imaging, image analysis and computer diagnostics that are pushing the cutting edge in FASD research in new and novel directions. Parallel preclinical and human clinical studies are often difficult to compare due to different diagnosis and differences between animals and models and human disease.

With fetal alcohol exposure, the cause is maternal drinking, and that can be modeled, although not as easily as one might think. Diagnosis of human FASD includes facial morphological features and/or neurological dysfunction that are found in both humans and animals exposed in utero to alcohol (first trimester). We know that alcohol has different actions at different stages of development, mostly from animal studies. The ability of modern medical imaging to assess facial changes, brain structural abnormalities and resulting alterations in performance, mood, cognition and many other measures of health is done in both controlled animal models and humans who are carefully assessed to best characterize exposure and abnormalities.

Rarely or perhaps never before has a group directly compared controlled animal studies and descriptive human studies using sophisticated analytic techniques. Similar imaging methodologies allow comparisons of human dysmorphology and dysfunction with animal models of varied dose, exposure, genetics, diet and all the other factors that may contribute to these alcohol-related pathologies. These are exciting studies prompting back and forth comparisons, looking for insights.

The workshop was mostly, but not all, work. A few guests, including Michael Charness (Bowles Center Executive Committee member) and Dan Savage watched the UNC basketball team play the College of Charleston at the Dean Smith Center. Both the UNC hosts and CIFASD scientists felt this was a win-win exchange of science and knowledge. We hope they come back.

As spring arrives, the Bowles Center welcomes Dr. Thomas Kash to our faculty with high hopes that he will reach his potential and make significant contributions at UNC. We look forward to integrating him with our research, teaching and service programs, collaborations, and fostering his growth as a scientist and upcoming star in the alcoholism research field.