Over ten to twelve babies were recently identified with a new syndrome associated with fentanyl exposure when the babies were inside their mom’s wombs.
All infants have arrived on the planet with distinctive physical defects like uncommonly small heads or a cleft palate. Shockingly, no common cause, even genetically, has been discovered. In fact, all the babies were actually born to moms who revealed that they had used some kind of street drug, specifically fentanyl, during their pregnancies.
March of Dimes’ president, Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, said, “This is concerning. As we see these shared characteristics identified, we may be unroofing a real syndrome.”
Cherot has not actually cared for the newborns personally.
While Nemours Children’s Health, located in Delaware’s Wilmington, identified six babies, California identified two babies, and a baby each was identified in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Research At Nemours Children’s Health:
At Nemours, a genetic counselor known as Erin Wadman, along with her co-workers, recently published their research on genetics in the Medicine Open.
In August 2022, Wadman was first made aware of a case where a baby was born with certain defects. This was literally the ‘aha’ moment for Wadman in terms of linking the infants.
He later said, “I was sitting there in the appointment, and I was just like, this face looks so familiar. This story sounds so familiar. And I was just thinking about how this patient reminded me so much of a patient I’d seen earlier in the year and then other patients I’d seen. That’s when we were like, we think we might have stumbled on something really big here.”
Apart from the cleft palate, the ten babies have uncommonly small heads and bodies. Also, these babies have droopy eyelids, with their noses turning upwards, while their lower jaws are also undersized. Some even reported experiencing trouble while feeding.
The similarities in physical attributes reminded both Wadman and Dr. Karen Gripp (a colleague from Nemours) of a syndrome known as Smith-Lemli-Opitz. In most cases, genetic variants impact how fetuses deal with cholesterol, which is essential for standard brand development and cell function.
The authors also mentioned in the report, “Although fentanyl’s effect on cholesterol metabolism has not been directly tested, based on indirect evidence, it is biologically plausible that it affects cholesterol metabolism in the developing fetus.” Wadman, however, did mention that so much more research and work are needed before they can give any confirmation on the findings, “even to prove that it is, indeed, the fentanyl and not anything that’s laced in it or another drug that we’re missing.”
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