State Health Department Receives March of Dimes Award for National Leadership in Newborn Screening

ALBANY, NY (Dec. 14, 2007) – The March of Dimes presented a "National Award for Excellence in Newborn Screening" Thursday to State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines in recognition of the State's initiative to help babies grow up healthy.

The award was presented at the annual meeting of the New York State Chapter of the March of Dimes by Alan Fleischman, M.D., Senior Vice President and Medical Director of the national March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.

"New York State is proud to be a leader in newborn screening, giving thousands of infants a better chance to grow up healthy," said Commissioner Daines.

The State Health Department's Wadsworth Center laboratory provides the most comprehensive free newborn screening program in the nation, testing all newborns for 45 diseases and conditions, including all 29 core conditions recommended by the American College of Medical Genetics and the March of Dimes.

Although the disorders that are screened for are rare, some may be life threatening and others may slow down a baby's physical development or cause mental retardation or other problems if left untreated. Serious side effects can be lessened and often completely prevented if a special diet or other medical intervention is started early.

For example, in 2006 New York State became the first in the world to screen for Krabbe disease, a rare but debilitating neurological disease that is usually fatal before age two without a life-saving cord blood transplant. Since this screening test was added, four infants have been identified at risk for Krabbe disease, including one who underwent a successful cord blood transplant.

In 2006, Wadsworth conducted approximately 11 million tests on 250,000 babies born in the state, using one tiny sample of blood obtained by pricking the newborn's heel, usually performed the day of hospital discharge. The blood is collected and dried on a special paper, which is sent to the Newborn Screening Program at Wadsworth Center for testing. Test results are reported to physicians and specialty care centers.

In October, Wadsworth developed and distributed a new training video for hospital health care professionals on the proper techniques for collecting newborn screening specimens. The video is also available on the Wadsworth Center web site at http://www.wadsworth.org/newborn/order.htm.

More than 12 million babies have been tested since New York's newborn screening program began in l965. This year the number will total more than 250,000, with 4,000 babies referred for additional diagnostic testing and about 14 percent of that group expected to be confirmed with a positive diagnosis for any of the 45 screened disorders.

New York is among the first of 13 states to be honored by the March of Dimes for including all 29 core treatable metabolic and functional disorders in a state newborn screening program. New York began including all 29 conditions in 2004.