13 September, 2021
Researches at Hospital Clínic group develop a new tool for diagnosing Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Researchers at the GRIE (Infancy and Environment Research Group) at Hospital Clínic-IDIBAPS, collaborators with the Neurodevelopmental Disorder Unit at barnaclínic+, have developed VisualTEAF, an app that, thanks to artificial intelligence, is able to help in the diagnosis of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It’s the first diagnostic tool for FASD in which machine learning is used, a branch of artificial intelligence that allows machines to learn without being expressly programmed to do so.
How does VisualTEAF work?
Through a smartphone camera, the tool analyses facial-anomaly patterns and other physical signs that allow for an initial screening. That way VisualTEAF helps both psychologically and medically in the diagnosis of FASD. Once the tool detects a possible case, it must be followed up with a neuropsychological evaluation that checks for the presence of both cognitive and behavioural disorders.
It’s a step forward in the research on FASD, which has advanced greatly in the last few years and allowed for an improvement in the description of this disorder, which is much more complex than first thought. Without going further, thanks to a research study with more than 400 cases in Hospital Clínic it has been possible to develop a neurocognitive profile on specific behaviour of people who have FASD.
Prenatal exposure to alcohol
FASD is a type of Neurodevelopmental Disorder formed by a combination of disorders which are caused by exposure to alcohol during prenatal development. This causes physical, mental, behavioural and cognitive anomalies, which in their worst form acquire the form Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). In these cases morphological anomalies, growth delays and cognitive, behavioural, social and learning variations are produced.
“All the problems that come from FASD are preventable in 100% of cases if no alcohol is consumed from the moment that the pregnancy is planned”, explains Dr. Óscar García-Algar, head of Neonatology Services at Hospital Clínic-Maternity and coordinator of the Infancy and Environment Research Group (GRIE).
“All the problems that come from FASD are preventable in 100% of cases if no alcohol is consumed from the moment that the pregnancy is planned”
Dr. Óscar García-Algar, head of Neonatology Services at Hospital Clínic-Maternity and coordinator of the Infancy and Environment Research Group (GRIE)
“The treatment of FASD is always symptomatological, given that the exposure to alcohol has produced injuries to the central nervous system that are irreversible”, explains Marta Astals, psychologist with the Neurodevelopmental Disorder Unit at barnaclínic+. The expert points out how different strategies are followed in order to treat both the behavioural and cognitive symptoms. “This way we develop behavioural management strategies, cognitive stimulation to improve academic performance and positive reinforcement.”
“The treatment of FASD is always symptomatological, given that the exposure to alcohol has produced injuries to the central nervous system that are irreversible”
For the same reason, it’s important to highlight that the Clínic-FASD team has developed the first therapeutic tool specifically for Cognitive disorders (which includes FASD) based on virtual reality (PVR: Psychotherapeutic VR).
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International day for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
The 9th of September is the International day for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This day is meant to inform and raise awareness of this type of disorder, which is still somewhat unknown. FASD is considered the first proximate cause and not genetic of mental underdevelopment in the western world.
FASD is considered the first proximate cause and not genetic of mental underdevelopment
The difference between this disorder and other problems related to neurology, behaviour or neurodevelopmental disorders is that FASD is 100% foreseeable and, therefore, it’s in our hands to eradicate this disease in the near future. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can have major and irreversible physical, intellectual and behavioural consequences for the recently born and the child.
Finally, we should mention that FASD prevention only happens by avoiding alcohol consumption during pregnancy and from the moment that the woman decides to become pregnant. During the first few weeks, during which pregnancy still cannot be confirmed, any consumption of alcohol could damage the fetus, there is no amount of alcohol that can safely be consumed during the gestation period.