New research suggests that a blood test could one day help doctors flag children with cerebral palsy far earlier, allowing young kids with the condition to get a head start on intervention.

In a new study, researchers identified differences in a panel of microRNAs — molecules instrumental in the developmental process — in premature babies who later developed abnormal muscle tone, a symptom associated with cerebral palsy.

Though babies who are born premature or at low birth weight are considered to be at higher risk for cerebral palsy, researchers say the disability remains difficult to spot right away.

The next step will be to validate in larger studies that our top 10 microRNAs from the abnormal tone group can reliably predict abnormal tone and cerebral palsy. We would then have conclusive evidence that these microRNAs can serve as early biomarkers for cerebral palsy in preemies.