The concept Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) refers to a set of birth defects that occur in children born to mothers who abused alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol-induced defects include pre- and post-natal growth deficiencies, minor facial abnormalities, and damage to the developing central nervous system (CNS). FAS is the most serious condition physicians group under the heading of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which also includes Alcohol-Related Birth Defects, like alcohol-induced congenital cardiac defects that are unrelated to a diagnosis of FAS, and Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders, which occur in the absence of any facial birth defects or growth delays. The severity of birth defects associated with FAS can vary depending on the intensity, duration, and frequency of exposure to alcohol during gestation. In addition to these dose-related concerns, maternal factors such as the mother's genetics or how quickly she metabolizes alcohol, and the timing of exposure during prenatal development also impact alcohol-induced abnormalities. As birth defects and anomalies can arise when pregnant women consume alcohol, alcohol is a teratogen, an environmental agent that negatively impacts the course of normal embryonic or fetal development.
Jeffrey Weinzweig and his team, in the US at the turn of the twenty-first century, performed a series of experiments on fetal goats to study the feasibility of repairing cleft palates on organisms still in the womb. Weinzweig , a plastic surgeon who specialized in cleft palate repair, and his team developed a method to cause cleft palates in fetal goats that are similar to clefts that occur in human fetuses. Using their goat congenital model, the team developed a method to repair a congenital cleft palate in utero, or in the womb. The resultant goat newborns had fully developed palates without scarring and with minimal functional impairment. The researchers recommended that surgeons use their repair methods in humans to decrease the incidence of speech impairment commonly associated with cleft palate patients.
Fetal programming, or prenatal programming, is a concept that suggests certain events occurring during critical points of pregnancy may cause permanent effects on the fetus and the infant long after birth. The concept of fetal programming stemmed from the fetal origins hypothesis, also known as Barker’s hypothesis, that David Barker proposed in 1995 at the University of Southampton in Southampton, England. The fetal origins hypothesis states that undernutrition in the womb during middle to late pregnancy causes improper fetal growth, which in turn, causes a predisposition to certain diseases in adulthood. In addition to nutritional impacts, researchers have studied the fetal programming effects of many factors, such as maternal anxiety or violence during pregnancy. Researchers proposing the concept of fetal programming established a new area of research into the developmental causes of disease, pointing towards the in utero environment and its critical role in healthy human development.