Dr. Tamara Bodnar, Research Associate in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences at The University of British Columbia.
A translational approach to exploring the impact of prenatal alcohol exposure on health: From pre-clinical models to Indigenous community partnerships.
Prenatal alcohol exposure has been well-documented to result in deficits in cognitive function, learning and memory, attention, and behavioural regulation, as well as mood disturbances; however, critical gaps remain. Despite a prevalence of approximately 5% of the population, Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), the group of conditions that can occur as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure, has received considerably less research attention compared to other neurodevelopmental disorders. Unfortunately, only a few research studies have investigated outcomes extending beyond childhood and almost none have examined health outcomes. There are also significant barriers to diagnosis, including a lack of objective diagnostic tests/biomarkers, minimal available treatment options, as well as pervasive stigma tied to an FASD diagnosis. My research aims to address many of these issues through the use of a translational and multipronged research approach. First, I am conducting pre-clinical research using animal models to explore whether prenatal alcohol exposure results in gut microbiota alterations, as perturbations in the microbiota have been linked to the pathophysiology of other neurodevelopmental disorders. Next, in order to incorporate critical social determinants of health, I am concurrently examining the microbiota and related health outcomes in children as well as adults with FASD. Importantly, this work involves partnering with Indigenous knowledge-holders, Elders, and communities, in order to specifically understand how FASD impacts Indigenous Peoples and explore relevant health risk and resiliency factors. Finally, building on this work, I have ongoing partnerships with Indigenous communities with the goal of re-framing conversations and education around alcohol-use and FASD, utilizing a Two-Eyed Seeing framework (combining both Indigenous and Western knowledge and ways of knowing). This involves gaining a deeper understanding of issues around substance use in Indigenous communities/contexts as a basis for creating culturally appropriate programs to discuss, share, and learn about the effects of alcohol on health and wellbeing. This project is guided and co-led by Indigenous communities, with priority given to youth engagement.
Dr. Tamara Bodnar is a Research Associate in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences at The University of British Columbia (UBC), supervised by Dr. Joanne Weinberg. Her research examines the impact of prenatal alcohol exposure and other early-life environmental manipulations on immune function across development. Her research involves animal models of prenatal alcohol exposure, as well as human studies examining the impact of in utero alcohol exposure. The overall goal of her research is to identify both immune-related biomarkers and targets for possible immune-based intervention strategies for individuals with FASD. She is also a member of the Women’s Health Research Cluster.
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