Piloting Very Early Biomarkers for ASD and Related Disorders in Premature and Low Birth Weight Infants

Short Title

Rutgers University

Project Description

This pilot project will investigate the use of very early markers to identify children with Autism among premature and low birth-weight children

Because Autism Spectrum Disorders are behaviorally defined, a formal diagnosis cannot reliably be made until the child is at least 2 years old. However, there is evidence that there are changes occurring in the child's development much earlier. As a result, intervention efforts miss a critical window for earlier diagnosis, prevention and treatment. While the majority of children diagnosed with autism are full term babies, the risk for preterm /low birth weight (LBW) babies is considerably higher. We will therefore carefully study children born preterm/LBW to see which children develop early signs of ASD. We will be using promising very early markers that we hope to develop into a screening tool to detect which children are at risk of developing ASD. These early markers include: exposure to prenatal inflammation, measures of changes to the developing immune system, and poor visual tracking and atypical early motor behavior. Our ultimate goal is to examine the relationship among these markers in order to predict which children are at risk for development of ASD. This will lead to earlier interventions and improved outcomes.

Selection Criteria

Infants born under 2500g AND/ OR Infants born less than or equal to 35 weeks.
Admitted to the NICU at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Mothers must be over the age of 18.
Mothers must be fluent in English.
Infants must not have a vision impairment or known immune disorder.
Be referred to the High-Risk Developmental Assessment Program (HRDAP).

What's Involved

  • GROUP 1: Recruited from the NICU. Follow up visits are at 1 month, 6 months, and 12 months corrected age.
  • GROUP 2: Recruited from HRDAP. Follow up visits are at 12 months and 24 months corrected age.

Visit: Baseline (Groups 1 & 2)

  • NIMH Medical History Questionnaire
  • Maternal Blood Sample
  • Newborn Cytokines
  • Placenta Pathology
  • CHARGE Family Questionnaire

Visit: 1 month (Group 1)

  • RNNA: developmental assessment

Visit: 6 months corrected age (Group 1)

  • Bayley III developmental assessment
  • AIMS developmental assessment

Visit: 12 months corrected age (Groups 1 & 2)

  • Bayley III developmental assessment
  • CHARGE Physical Exam
  • CHARGE Medical History
  • CSBS Questionnaire
  • Toddler Sensory Profile questionnaire

Visit: 24 months corrected age (Group 2)

  • Bayley II developmental assessment
  • ADOS assessment for early signs of autism


  • At the end of the study, all families will receive a $25 gift card
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Team Members

Barbie Zimmerman-Bier
Principal Investigator
(201) 621-2246

Alexa Sacchi
Project Coordinator
(732) 235-7169

Andrew Walrond
Research Assistant
(732) 235-7169

Contact Info

(732) 235-7900
89 French Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901