An anniversary party at Saint Peter's University Hospital, an exhibit at the Turtle Back Zoo and a "teddy bear clinic" at a Camden County library will help the state celebrate the national 50th anniversary of newborn screening.
The regional events will showcase a traveling national exhibit designed to raise awareness of the importance of newborn screening. More than 100,000 babies born in New Jersey each year are tested for 54 genetic conditions, hearing loss and Critical Congenital Heart Defects (CCHD). New Jersey has screened 2.4 million babies over the past 20 years. Of those, 6,463 were identified with a biochemical or genetic condition. Hearing loss was detected in another 1,106 babies between 2002 and 2011.
"Newborn screening saves lives," said Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd. "These rare disorders may not be apparent at birth and if left undetected can lead to developmental delays, disability or even death. Because of Governor Christie's commitment and support, New Jersey continues to lead the nation in newborn screening."
The celebration begins Wednesday, July 24 and Thursday, July 25 with an exhibit at the Turtleback Zoo in West Orange, which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary. Staff from the Department's Newborn Screening Program will be at the zoo from 10 am to 4:30 pm to distribute educational information to families visiting the zoo.
The traveling exhibit will be at Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick from July 26 to July 29. Commissioner O'Dowd will be at Saint Peter's for a 50th anniversary party and press conference July 29 from 12:00 pm to 2 pm. Several families whose babies have benefited from newborn screening will be available for interviews.
The exhibit will conclude on July 30 with a "teddy bear clinic" in the South County Regional Branch Library in Atco. Youngsters will be able to bring their teddy bears to a clinic between 11 a.m. and 12:00 pm. Staff from the Department's Newborn Screening and CCHD programs will "examine" the teddy bears and give them a Certificate of Health. New and expecting parents are welcome to attend and ask questions about newborn screening. Activities, crafts and snacks will be available.
New Jersey was the first state to implement newborn screening for CCHD under legislation signed by Gov. Christie in 2011. A study published in the national journal Pediatrics on July 15 found that in the first 9 months after implementation, 3 babies with previously unsuspected CCHD were identified as well as 17 infants with other potentially serious conditions. The Pediatrics article can be found at: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2013-0269
The current state budget invests an additional $1.6 million in new funds this year to expand the number of newborn screening tests from 54 to 60 biochemical and genetic disorders. As a result of Emma's Law, signed by Governor Christie, new testing will add 5 lysosomal storage disorders which impair the body's ability to break down certain substances like proteins. Testing will also begin for Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, which prevents newborns from fighting infections. The condition is fatal if not detected.
Of the more than four million babies born in the U.S. each year, newborn screening saves at least 12,000 from death or from a lifetime of mental or physical disability.
The Department's Public Health and Environmental Laboratories tests blood specimens sent from the state's hospitals, usually collected within 48 hours of a baby's birth. If testing identifies a possible abnormality, staff in the Department's Division of Family Health Services work with physicians to ensure that the families are informed about the abnormal result and connected with appropriate medical specialists.
Nationally, newborn screening began in 1963 using a method developed by microbiologist Dr. Robert Guthrie to test infants at birth for a genetic disorder known as phenylketonuria (PKU). Testing, early detection and treatment can help prevent irreversible neurological damage.
Today, all states require screening for at least 26 conditions.
For more information on the 50th anniversary of newborn screening, visit www.50yearssavingbabies.org.