A simple test is being developed that will allow the medical implications of long-term alcohol consumption to be assessed, writes Rifat Malik.
Currently, blood alcohol tests can only measure alcohol consumption in the previous few hours, whereas medical researchers at the University of Southampton hope that the new test will determine the consumption rate over days or weeks.
Graham Burge and Tony Postle of the department of child health at Southampton University joined forces with Southampton hospital to conduct the research, with a Pounds 28,000 grant from the South and West Regional Health Authority.
Dr Burge said that the technique involved the isolation of abnormal fats in the blood, which could act as long-term measures of alcohol consumption. "The project will look at novel types of fat which are only created when we drink. Although the blood alcohol test is sensitive it can only monitor the effects of short-term drinking. We expect to have results within a year."
The researchers are interested in the biochemical mechanism responsible for foetal alcohol syndrome. Latest research shows that women who drink large amounts of alcohol during pregnancies risk producing brain-damaged children, and some research shows that even a couple of glasses of wine a day may do harm. Dr Burge said that data in Scotland has proven that up to 300 cases of foetal damage each year are from alcohol-related causes.
Dr Burge said: "At present we wait until people suffer from liver disease to measure a person's alcohol intake. This research should help us to identify the problem before that stage."