Pregnant Ewes Used in Alcohol Experiments at the Research Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Adelaide


Although evidence shows that consumption of alcohol during pregnancy impairs the fetus and leads to lifelong facial and brain abnormalities in the child, researchers at the Research Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Adelaide (in conjunction with the Department of Physiology, Monash University) have been attempting to mimic binge drinking in pregnant sheep to observe the results in the unborn lamb [1].

Pregnant sheep were infused intravenously with ethanol (alcohol) and compared to control sheep not infused with ethanol. The researchers observed a reduction in fetal weight in the sheep administered with ethanol.

The Experiment

Twelve twin-bearing ewes had catheters inserted into their arteries and veins and into the amniotic sac of each fetus. The ewes were then housed individually and after 5 days were infused with 40% ethanol for 3 consecutive days. On the fourth day each sheep and her fetus was killed.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a lifelong disorder caused by prenatal alcohol exposure and according to the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders (NOFASARD) fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is the most common preventable cause of birth defects and brain damage in children.

Sadly there are children in Australia who suffer the neurological effects of FAS and there are women who continue to binge drink whilst pregnant. Both the sufferers and those at risk are in desperate need of support and help. We strongly therefore argue that vital resources should be provided to assist those with the condition and to provide Australia-wide education programs instead of wasting precious resources in a futile attempt to replicate the condition in an animal model.

HRA is concerned about the welfare of the ewes used in this experiment particularly over the three days during the simulated ‘binge’ drinking and the waste of money when the effect of consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is already well known and documented.

The researchers themselves acknowledge in their publication that they were already aware that chronic ethanol consumption in pregnant women reduces birth weight and further that the ‘sensitivity of fetal growth to ethanol may vary between species’. One then wonders what the point of such an experiment was.

This experiment was funded by way of a substantial grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (taxpayer’s money) and a donation from the Pratt Foundation.

What you can do: Write to NHMRC, Pratt Foundation

Mr Sam Lipski

  • Chief Executive
  • Pratt Foundation
  • 39th floor, 55 Collins Street
  • Melbourne, 3000
  • Email:

Prof. Warwick Anderson,

  • Chief Executive Officer,
  • NHMRC (MDP 100)
  • GPO Box 9848
  • Canberra, ACT 2601
  • Email:
  1. Gatford, K.L., Dalitz, PA., Cock, M.L., Harding R, Owens, J.A. (2007) Acute ethanol exposure in pregnancy alters the insulin-like growth factor axis of fetal and maternal sheep. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 292: E494-E500

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