Research Campus expert lands big grant for fetal alcohol syndrome research

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 4, 2011

KANNAPOLIS — Dr. Philip May, an expert in fetal alcohol syndrome disorders, has earned the largest grant ever awarded to a UNC Nutrition Research Institute scientist at the N.C. Research Campus.
May won an $8.9 million grant to examine the prevalence and characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome disorders in the United States.
The grant was awarded from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The funds will support May’s research on individual nutrient risk factors related to alcoholism during pregnancy.
May’s grant and research project shows how science at the Research Campus in Kannapolis can serve as an economic engine for the state, according to a press release.
Professors and their research efforts attract external funding, which results in jobs. Landing a large grant means hiring everyone from lab technicians to housekeepers.
Grant administration means spending money locally on supplies, lab equipment and research materials, further stimulating the local economy, the Nutrition Research Institute said.
“In this tight economic environment, Dr. May’s grant is very important, because it creates jobs, enhancing the campus’ ability to be an economic driver for North Carolina,” said Dr. Steven Zeisel, director for the Nutrition Research Institute.
“But the impact is not just monetary,” Zeisel said. “Dr. May’s reputation and work add prestige and credibility to the North Carolina Research Campus.”
May is traveling to Canada, Russia and South Africa this fall, where he will speak on his project and introduce new audiences to the vanguard research going on in Kannapolis.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, including physical deformities, limited brain development, behavioral issues and learning disabilities. While fetal alcohol disorder has caused these birth defects for years, many of the symptoms are only evident later in childhood, making it difficult for scientists to track.
May will use the grant to study first-graders across the United States, including in North Carolina, to develop a way to clearly diagnose impacted children and institute appropriate treatment.
Ultimately, the grant will fund studies designed to pinpoint micronutrients and other characteristics and subsequently create strategies to lessen or even prevent, the alcohol’s impact on the fetus.
Researchers at eight universities with branches in Kannapolis study nutrition, health and agriculture.
May, the newest investigator at the Nutrition Research Institute, moved his research to Kannapolis so he could combine knowledge from his field research across the globe with the institute’s international leadership in nutrition science.
“We have made great progress identifying the demographic and behavioral risk factors for FASD,” May said. “Now we must look at individual risk factors and nutrient deficiencies — genetics and epigenetics may come into play.”
The Nutrition Research Institute works to advance the field of individualized nutrition, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach. Scientists at the institute study the genetic, metabolomic and epigenetic variations among people.
Earlier this year, May was honored with an Excellence Award at the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Awards Benefit in Washington, D.C.
He also was selected to deliver the 2011 University of New Mexico 56th Annual Research Lecture, one of the highest honors awarded at the university. May created the University of New Mexico Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions, and served as director for 12 years.