UAB School of Nursing awarded prestigious R01 grant to study infants born preterm

A five-year, $1.72 million grant will help researchers to identify the role of testosterone and cortisol in health and development of preterm infants and find a measure that will reliably predict those infants most at risk for problems later.

june choJune Cho, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Nursing, has been awarded a five-year, $1.72 million R01 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Development for her proposal “Testosterone and Cortisol Levels in Infant Health and Development.”

The grant will enable Cho and her research team to address the health and developmental problems that result when infants are born preterm — gestational age shorter than 34 weeks —and at a very low birth weight (VLBW; birth weight less than 1,500 grams).

“Despite great progress in the field of obstetrics, the rate of infants’ being born preterm has been higher in the United States compared to other countries,” Cho said. “The VLBW infants often suffer from negative health and developmental outcomes already at birth that extend into childhood and beyond. These problems occur more frequently and with greater severity in boys than in girls.”

As part of her research, Cho will measure the levels of testosterone and cortisol concurrently in mother-VLBW infant pairs.

Cho believes that high levels of these hormones will be associated with more health problems, more difficulty in mother-infant interactions and more developmental problems later in the childhood.

Cho plans to examine 190 VLBW infants at frequent intervals from birth to age 2, using a number of tests to measure medical, social and developmental outcomes and hormone levels. She will also perform regular videotaped observations of the mother and infant as they interact.  

“Our ultimate goal is to identify the role of testosterone and cortisol in health and development of VLBW preterm infants. We will be able to develop an intervention for emotionally at-risk mothers and their medically at-risk infants as well as to develop a screening tool for infants who are at developmental and behavioral risks, including autism spectrum disorder.”

“Our goal is to find a measure that will reliably predict those infants most at risk for later problems,” Cho said. “Our ultimate goal is to identify the role of testosterone and cortisol in health and development of VLBW preterm infants. We will be able to develop an intervention for emotionally at-risk mothers and their medically at-risk infants as well as to develop a screening tool for infants who are at developmental and behavioral risks, including autism spectrum disorder.”

An R01 grant is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by the National Institutes of Health. It provides support for health-related research and development based on the mission of the NIH. The R01 mechanism allows an investigator to define the scientific focus or objective of the research based on a particular area of interest and competence.

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