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.
Vitamin A (retinol) is an essential vitamin in the daily functioning of human beings that helps regulate cellular differentiation of epithelial tissue. Studies have shown that an excess of vitamin A can affect embryonic development and result in teratogenesis, or the production of birth defects in a developing embryo. Excess intake of vitamin A and retinoids by pregnant women often results malformations to fetuses' skulls, faces, limbs, eyes, central nervous system. Additionally, doctors often use derivatives of vitamin A, known as retinoids, as medicine to treat a number of skin conditions and carcinomas, the most common form of human cancers.
A germ layer is a group of cells in an embryo that interact with each other as the embryo develops and contribute to the formation of all organs and tissues. All animals, except perhaps sponges, form two or three germ layers. The germ layers develop early in embryonic life, through the process of gastrulation. During gastrulation, a hollow cluster of cells called a blastula reorganizes into two primary germ layers: an inner layer, called endoderm, and an outer layer, called ectoderm. Diploblastic organisms have only the two primary germ layers; these organisms characteristically have multiple symmetrical body axes (radial symmetry), as is true of jellyfish, sea anemones, and the rest of the phylum Cnidaria. All other animals are triploblastic, as endoderm and ectoderm interact to produce a third germ layer, called mesoderm. Together, the three germ layers will give rise to every organ in the body, from skin and hair to the digestive tract.
In the early 2000s, Sabata Martino and a team of researchers in Italy and Germany showed that they could reduce the symptoms of Tay-Sachs in afflicted mice by injecting them with a virus that infected their cells with a gene they lacked. Tay-Sachs disease is a fatal degenerative disorder that occurs in infants and causes rapid motor and mental impairment, leading to death at the ages of three to five. In gene therapy, researchers insert normal genes into cells that have missing or defective genes in order to correct genetic disorders. The team created a virus that coded for a specific gene missing in mice with Tay-Sachs. That missing gene is called hexosaminidase subunit alpha (HEXA). Martino and the team injected the virus into the brains of mice with Tay-Sachs in attempt to restore Hexa enzymatic function in the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).
Cocaine use by pregnant women has a variety of effects on the embryo and fetus, ranging from various gastro-intestinal and cardiac defects to tissue death from insufficient blood supply. Thus, cocaine has been termed a teratogen, or an agent that causes defects in fetuses during prenatal development. Cocaine is one of the most commonly used drugs in the US and it has a history of both medical and illegal recreational use. It is a drug capable of a wide array of effects on physical and mental health. Research on the teratogenic effects of cocaine began in the early 1980s, and in 1985 research on the effects of cocaine on prenatal development gained widespread attention. Since then, numerous studies have contributed to information about the detrimental impacts of maternal cocaine use on embryonic and fetal development.