A researcher at Florida International University is hoping to improve the way premature babies are cared for with the help of baby quail chicks.
Dr. Robert Lickliter is heading up a team that is looking at what happens once pre-term babies are born, and what can be done to give them the best care so they grow up healthy.
"What we are trying to do is find the combination that promotes more optimal or normal development," said Lickliter.
The team does that by looking at bobwhite quails, which have a short gestational period.
Since the quails grow in an egg, researchers can control a number of factors.
"So, we are able to change what they hear, what they see, how much they are able to move," said Lickliter, "and ask questions that hopefully help us to better determine what happens to pre-term infants."
A number of monumental changes have been made in NICU's across the county based on Lickliter's work and similar studies.
Things like Kangaroo care, turning down the volume on alarms and monitors, and controlling what babies see, either by putting on eye covers or cycling the light, have all been ideas that originated from animal-based studies.
Lickliter and his team test the quail eggs from the beginning, observing changes to the embryo while the chicks are still developing, and test them in different ways while they are young.
"Preemies have regular movement while in their mother's belly, along with a dark and quiet environment, to lying in an incubator completely still with lots of visual stimulation and noises," said Lickliter.
While huge strides have been made to help doctors and nurses better care for preemies, Lickliter says more research needs to be done, since the early stages of an infants life shapes the type of human being they become.
"So, we really need to be more concerned and invest more resources in what is going on there, and I think we have a long way to go in really understanding that," said Lickliter.
After studying the baby quails for a few days, they are taken to a preserve in southwest Miami-Dade.
In the United States, 12 percent of babies are born before 36 weeks.