Susan M. Smith, PhD
Dr. Smith studies how nutrition impacts the fetus, and how nutrition, genetics, and prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) interact to impair fetal development. PAE affects 3.9% of U.S. births and causes perisistent behavioral and cognitive impairment. At the molecular level, her lab identified the molecular signals through which alcohol causes the apoptotic deletion of craniofacial stem cell precursors (aka “the neural crest”), a diagnostic feature of PAE. Current work studies the MDM2/p53/ribosomal gene network that modulates neural crest vulnerability to alcohol’s damage. Her lab has also isolated maternal iron-deficiency (ID) as a risk factor that heightens fetal vulnerability to PAE-induced learning deficits. Other projects explore how PAE affects risk for metabolic syndrome and eating disorders in adolescence and adulthood. Her work is recognized by a prestigious MERIT award from NIAAA. She serves on the External Advisory Council for NIAAA, and is past chair of the NIH Neurotoxicology and Alcohol (NAL) study section and past-president of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Study Group.