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Saint Peter’s Launches Early Risk Study of Autism Disorders

The hospital received a $400,000 grant from the state to fund the study.

Saint Peter’s University Hospital has received a $400,000 grant from the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism to test for early biomarkers that may indicate an increased risk in newborn infants for the development of autism and related disorders. The two-year study begins this month.

Major goals of the study are to develop consistent practices in the testing of preterm/low-birth-weight babies and to measure those markers of interest with high reliability. The study also aims to gather data that can be used in later, more definitive research, enabling use of these markers to more accurately define the risk of autism and related disorders.

“These grant monies will greatly further the cause of research and treatment of autism and related disorders,” said Barbie Zimmerman-Bier, M.D., chief of developmental pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peters University Hospital. “We believe that biological markers will improve our understanding of environmental factors that can increase risk for the development of autism and lead to more effective treatments.”

Project partners include the MIND Institute, The Institute for Basic Research and Rutgers University. As part of the study, staff at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Saint Peter’s will indicate which families meet criteria for the program and which might be eligible for recruitment in the study. Families will be offered information about the study prior to a mother’s discharge. Recruitment staff will offer to enroll families at that time.

“Due to the sensitive and unexpected nature of preterm delivery,” Zimmerman-Bier said, “the staff must be sensitive to the infant’s current needs and all family concerns.”

-Saint Peter's University Hospital

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