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Fetal alcohol syndrome in research focus

Journal publishes ADA Foundation scientist's investigations

May 05, 2014

By Jean Williams

Dr. Kim 
Gaithersburg, Md.–The journal Stem Cell Research published an article online April 12 co-authored by Dr. Jeffrey Kim, a researcher at the ADA Foundation Dr. Anthony Volpe Research Center.

"Gene Expression Signatures Affected by Alcohol-induced DNA Methylomic Deregulation in Human Embryonic Stem Cells" examines the potential molecular effects of alcohol on transcriptional regulation in human embryonic stem cells and its potential functional effects on stem cell maintenance/differentiation.

"I am particularly fond of this project because the topic has great clinical implications," said Dr. Kim, who has a Ph.D. in oral biology and medicine.

"Although fetal alcohol syndrome is a 100-percent preventable disease, more than 18 percent of women age 15 to 44 drink during early pregnancy. Currently, three out of 1,000 U.S. children suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. By using stem cells, we were able to find alcohol-related changes in gene expression and epigenetics of the entire human genome."

Dr. Kim joined VRC in early 2014. His research at the center entails stem cell investigation as it may apply to dental pulp regeneration. "So instead of doing traditional root canal therapy, we're moving toward the more cell-based therapy. That's one avenue that I'm looking at," he said.

Aside from his work on dental pulp regeneration and on xerostomia, he plans to continue pursuing research on fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol addiction at VRC.

He and his collaborators ultimately hope to develop therapies and solutions to help developing babies and alcohol-addicted mothers.

Because there's no ethical way to research fetal alcohol syndrome in humans, stem cells provide the best alternative, according to Dr. Kim.

"We treated the stem cells with alcohol in different dosages and different time points," Dr. Kim said. "We performed genetic and epigenetic profiling on the alcohol treated stem cells. We found potential pathways that are involved in fetal alcohol syndrome. We are actually moving forward with the project, and we want to follow the pathways and see if we can come up with some type of therapeutic solution for fetal alcohol syndrome."

Dr. Kim became interested in stem cell research while pursuing doctoral studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.

"In the beginning, it was oral cancer that I was working on when I was going for my Ph.D.," he said. "Cancer and stem cell biology are very similar. Cancer is uncontrolled growth and stem cells have a unique ability to self-renew and also differentiate. So, in some cases, cancer is a lot like stem cells; it's just that it does not have proper brakes to stop itself. That's how I got into stem cells, and we're looking at different diseases, not just in the oral cavity but throughout the body."

He co-authored the Stem Cell Research manuscript with Omar Khalid, Ph.D., who is an expert in bioinformatics and his collaborator on upcoming VRC alcohol addiction research projects.

UCLA researchers and leaders in human genetics, alcohol addiction, and stem cell biology, Steve Horvath, Ph.D.; Igor Spigelman, Ph.D.; and Yong Kim, Ph.D., also made significant contributions to the research and article published in Stem Cell Research.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism supported the research.

To view the article online, visit journals.elsevier.com/stem-cell-research. The article will appear in the May print edition of Stem Cell Research.