Laura Stroud, Ph.D., a researcher with The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, was recently awarded a 5-year, $2,885,481 grant from the National Institutes of Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to further her work on the physiological impact of maternal smoking on fetal development and behavior.
Funded through the NIH's premiere Research Project Grant (R01) program, Stroud's research involves the use of ultrasound technology to identify real-time, fetal markers of risk among women who smoke during their pregnancies. Her goal is to determine whether maternal smoking will influence trajectories of fetal behavior, stress response, and brain structures over pregnancy, and if it could also predict infant neurobehavioral deficits, such as attention and self regulation deficits.
Despite the warnings and known health risks, approximately one in five expectant moms in the U.S. continues to smoke during pregnancy. Studies have consistently found that prenatal cigarette smoke exposure is associated with increased rates of behavior problems, irritability, attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder, the risk of conduct disorder, adolescent onset of drug dependence and the risk for criminal arrest in offspring.
"Although there have been pervasive sanctions against smoking during pregnancy, 13 to 30 percent of infants are born exposed," said Stroud. "Given continued high exposure rates and links to costly offspring outcomes, new and innovative approaches are needed to identify and protect high-risk children and help pregnant smokers quit."
Stroud's research group previously demonstrated effects of maternal smoking on attention and self regulation deficits and hyperarousal in infants.
As a next step, the researchers will use fetal ultrasound assessments to observe fetal behavior, response to mild stress (using a vibratory sound stimulus), and 3D assessment of fetal brain structures, followed by two infant neurobehavior and stress hormone (cortisol) reactivity assessments. Participants will include pregnant smokers and a control group of pregnant non-smokers.
Stroud said the findings could shed light on the real-time impact of maternal smoking during pregnancy, identify new pre-birth markers of risk that could improve clinical care for pregnant smokers and other high-risk pregnancies, pinpoint new therapeutic targets to protect exposed fetuses, and lead to the development of new and focused intervention efforts for pregnant smokers.
The principal affiliation of Laura Stroud, Ph.D., is The Miriam Hospital (a member hospital of the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island) and direct financial and infrastructure support for this project was received through the Lifespan Office of Research Administration. Stroud is also an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.