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Alcohol and Fetal Heart Development

By Quinn Eastman

shot glass with baby's pacifier in the alcohol

Prenatal exposure to alcohol can result in abnormalities in the fetus’s developing heart.

Indeed, half of all children with fetal alcohol syndrome have congenital heart defects, such as arrhythmias or structural abnormalities.

Chunhui Xu and colleagues recently published a paper in Toxicological Sciences on how human cardiac muscle cells, derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, can be used as a model for studying the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol-induced cardiac toxicity is usually studied in animal models, but human cells are different, and a cell-culture based approach could make it easier to study the effects of alcohol and possible interventions more easily.

Xu and her colleagues observed that high levels of alcohol did damage cardiac muscle cells and put them under oxidative stress. Even at relatively low concentrations of alcohol, the researchers saw disruptions in cells’ electrical activity and the ability to contract, which reasonably matches the effects of alcohol on human heart development.

The lowest level tested was 17 millimolar—the legal limit for driving in most states (0.08% blood alcohol content).

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