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Babies Under Stress: Neonatal Researchers Take the Fastest Path to Biomarker Analysis

1 in 10 babies are born prematurely, with under-developed organs that are susceptible to stress.

Read how neonatal development experts Dr. Ashley Weber and Dr. Marty Visscher are working with a CRO on the Science Exchange Network to analyze biomarkers that may help identify care practices that reduce stress on premature babies.

Ashley Weber Univ of Cincinnati
Ashley Weber, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at University of Cincinnati College of Nursing
Marty Visscher, Ph.D., Professor, University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy

The Mission: Reducing Stress in the NICU

The youngest viable age for newborn is about 23 weeks. So, any infant born between 23 and 37 weeks gestation is considered premature and many of these infants are hospitalized in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) until they reach the equivalent of 37 weeks gestational age. The organ systems of these infants are not fully developed, and, the more premature, the less developed. NICU nurses, therefore, specialize in care practices that are aimed at promoting development. 

One of the biggest challenges facing premature newborns hospitalized in the NICU environment is the stress caused by painful procedures, handling, etc. Stress increases cortisol levels in the body. Increased cortisol is detrimental to brain and neural development, which are essential for infant growth and survival.  

Therefore, given that many infants spend weeks or even months in the NICU, there is a need to use strategies that minimize stress and maximize the environment favorable for growth. Dr. Weber has conducted research using interventions , including skin-to-skin contact, to reduce stress and promote neurodevelopment. 

Measuring Babies’ Stress via Skin Biomarkers

Accurately measuring stress is crucial for health care providers — and it turns out that infant skin could be an important source of information regarding their stress response.

Like other organs and systems in premature infants, the skin is also very underdeveloped.  Dr. Marty Visscher of the University of Cincinnati, is an expert in neonatal skin development and in identifying strategies to assist the development and, thereby, reduce the susceptibility to injury and infection. In the process of studying skin development, Dr. Visscher’s team discovered that cortisol is present in the skin and can be measured from the upper layers if they are gently removed with an adhesive sampling disc. 

Dr. Weber and Dr. Visscher undertook a study in which they aimed to measure cortisol levels in the skin as a function of various infant care practices.  They designed a protocol to measure cortisol using Luminex xMAP® bead-based immunoassays; however, they needed access to a research provider with the right instrumentation and expertise to run the assays.

Science Exchange Provides the Fastest Path to Biomarker Assay Services

The researchers turned to Science Exchange’s extensive marketplace of 2500+ prequalified, fully contracted research providers, including dozens of providers offering assay services on the Luminex® platform.

Within a few days, Dr. Weber and Dr. Visscher received multiple quotes from providers who were able to perform the cortisol assay. They chose AssayGate, an experienced, Maryland USA-based CRO specializing in performing Luminex® assays with high sensitivity on a wide variety of sample types.

Because AssayGate was a prequalified, fully contracted provider on the Science Exchange marketplace, the study’s analyses could start as soon as payment was approved and the samples were ready.


Contact us to learn more about how Science Exchange can help you with your own research. Whether you are ready to start a project, or whether you are exploring how to best frame your Scope of Work, feel free to contact the Science Exchange team.


Chandreyee Das

Director, Marketing

Chandreyee Das, Ph.D. (Chemical Biology, UCSF) is Director of Marketing at Science Exchange with 15 years of research experience and 14 years of life science content marketing experience. Chandreyee was a Fulbright Scholar and won fellowships from the U.S. NSF and NIH. Following postdoctoral research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, she worked at MilliporeSigma, delivering scientific content to life science tools customers. She has published in both peer-reviewed and industry news outlets.

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