Philip A. May, Ph.D., research professor at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis, NC, is this year’s recipient of the Henry Rosett Award. Each year, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Study Group of the Research Society on Alcoholism honors a researcher with this award of merit. It recognizes an individual who has made a substantial contribution to the field of alcohol-induced teratology, or physiological abnormalities.

The FASDSG presented the award to Dr. May at the group’s annual meeting in Belleview, WA, June 21. Dr. May was the featured speaker at the FASDG meeting, delivering his talk, “Explorations in Epidemiologic Research on FASD.”

“I am especially pleased to receive this award since it is a mark of recognition from my peers,” said Dr. May. “These are great scientists who have followed a similar work trajectory as me; having their acknowledgment is both humbling and rewarding.”

Dr. May was the principal investigator (PI) of the first-ever population-based epidemiology research on the prevalence and characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which commenced in 1979 among multiple communities of American Indians of the Southwestern United States (only six years after the diagnosis of FAS was established). He served as the PI and director of the National Indian FAS Prevention Program—the first large, national program of its kind—from 1983-1987. He was also a member of the Committee to Study Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, a committee commissioned from 1994 to 1996 to formulate and publish guidelines for the diagnosis, research, prevention and treatment of FAS. Over the past three decades, he and his large and talented multidisciplinary team of experts have carried out ground-breaking research to determine the prevalence and characteristics of FASD in children and identify key maternal risk and protective factors influencing FASD.

Dr. May has been funded for the past two decades by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health to design and implement this research in three regions of the United States, five communities of the Western Cape province of South Africa, and the Lazio region of Italy.

Dr. May has lectured on FASD throughout the world and has authored numerous papers on FASD in scientific journals.

One of the key risk factors for FASD and other birth defects that led him to return to his native region is the link between nutrition and severity of alcohol damage. His team’s research has indicated that mothers who have insufficient dietary intake of key nutrients (such as calcium, choline and select omega 3 fatty acids) and a low body mass index have children who suffer more severe growth and development deficits when exposed to alcohol and other teratogens (environmental agents that cause birth defects or anomalies) in the prenatal period. At NRI research on individualized nutrition may hold some explanations for this relationship between nutrition, birth defects, and child development.

Three recent papers published by Dr. May and his researchers are:

P.A. May, et al., “Dietary Intake, Nutrition, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in the Western Cape Province of South Africa,” Reproductive Toxicology 46: 31-39, 2014.

P.A. May, et al., “Maternal Factors Predicting Cognitive and Behavioral Characteristics of Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: JDBP, 34(5), 314-25, 2013.

P.A. May, et al. “Approaching the Prevalence of the Full Spectrum of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in a South African Population-Based Study.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(5): 813-830, 2013.

Dr. May is also Research Professor with the Department of Nutrition of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gillings School of Global Public Health.