State Health Commissioner Celebrates 50 Years of Vital Newborn Screening

National Exhibit on Display in New York State

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 6, 2013)– Since 1963, tens of millions of babies nationwide have had blood drawn from their heels to be tested for rare diseases. Of the more than four million babies born in the U.S each year, newborn screening saves at least 12,000 from death or lifetimes of intellectual or physical disability. This year, New York State joins the nation in celebrating 50 years of Newborn Screening.

State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah M.D., M.P.H, today celebrated the 50th Anniversary of newborn screening at the State Department of Health (DOH) Wadsworth Center Laboratories, where a national exhibit designed to raise awareness of the importance of newborn screening was showcased. "Newborn screening is vital in saving the lives of our newest New Yorkers," said Commissioner Shah. "Scientists in our Wadsworth Center screen approximately 250,000 infants every year for rare diseases that would otherwise go undetected at birth. As a result, we have the opportunity to identify and treat babies with these diseases and help them lead healthy, productive lives."

New York State began screening for phenylketonuria (PKU) in 1965 and now screens for 45 disorders. New York pioneered the way for several screenings, including being the first state to test for sickle cell anemia in 1975. The State was also the first to introduce universal screening for HIV exposure in 1997, and in 2006, New York was the first state to screen all babies for Krabbe disease, an inherited disorder that affects the central and peripheral nervous systems. Screenings are also conducted for such disorders as cystic fibrosis, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, primary congenital hypothyroidism, and severe combined immunodeficiency.

In addition, beginning Dec. 30, 2013, New York will become the first state to screen all newborns for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare genetic condition, which affects the nervous system. If detected early enough, a bone-marrow transplant can help children enjoy a higher quality life. This latest test comes almost two years after Elisa and Bobby Seeger of Brooklyn lost their seven-year-old son Aidan to the disease. This year, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law, "Aidan's Law," which will add ALD to New York's screening panel.

Michele Caggana, director of the Newborn Screening Program said, "With the addition of ALD screening, New York will again be the first state to initiate universal screening for a condition, allowing for early diagnosis and treatment of an otherwise devastating disease."

Elisa Seeger said, "I am so thankful New York has added ALD to its Newborn Screening Panel. This will give so many boys the opportunity to have a normal, healthy life. The only way ALD can be stopped is with early detection and New York has set an example, once again, for the rest of the country to follow. My hope is that all the states will follow suit."

The national exhibit provided by the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) is traveling to states throughout the country. It reveals the scientific discoveries that enable mass, rapid, and accurate testing of newborns. The display will be available for public viewing at the following locations:

  • August 6-7, 2013 Wadsworth Center, Corning Tower, Albany
  • August 8-11, 2013 Crossgates Mall, Albany
  • August 12-13, 2013 Rensselaer Train Station, Rensselaer
  • August 14-16, 2013 Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Springs

For more information on the 50th Anniversary of newborn screening, visit:

For additional information on New York State's newborn screening program, visit: