UTEP Research Examines Very Low Birth Weight Infants

Xiaogang Su, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, is taking a closer look at issues found in very low birth weight (VLBW) infants.

“A long-term goal of the study is to identify the role of testosterone and cortisol in health and development of VLBW infants,” Su said. “This collaborative study involves a multidisciplinary team that integrates biochemical (laboratory research), behavioral (observational method) and developmental science.”

He is using a $39,000 grant received from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development through Duke University to research whether testosterone, rather than cortisol, is a more reliable marker/predictor of complications affecting infants’ health outcomes, mother-infant interactions, and infant cognitive/motor/language developmental outcomes.

He is also studying whether male infants exhibit a higher sensitivity to testosterone levels than female infants.

VLBW infants have more health and developmental problems than normal birth weight, full-term infants. These problems are more common in males than female VLBW preterm infants. Male VLBW infants also experience less positive mother-infant interactions than females, especially when mothers are emotionally distressed.

“This is a significant problem because positive mother-infant interactions function as an important protective factor against the negative health and developmental outcomes associated with prematurity,” Su explained. “The source of the vulnerability of male VLBW infants to health problems, suboptimal mother-infant interactions, and poor development goes beyond gender socialization differences and includes biological factors. Identification of infant and maternal biological markers/predictors of infant health and developmental outcomes could ultimately lead to interventions for VLBW preterm infants.”

Su expects the research to be completed by summer 2019.