For Immediate Release - December 09, 2013

Massachusetts Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Newborn Screening

Governor Patrick proclaims week of December 9 as Newborn Screening Awareness Week

BOSTON — Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) John Polanowicz today led a State House celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Massachusetts newborn screening program, a public health success story that has touched the lives of nearly every person born in Massachusetts over the past five decades.

Secretary Polanowicz was joined by leaders from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which partners with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) to operate the newborn screening program. Also attending today’s ceremony were leaders from across the Commonwealth’s public health, scientific and medical communities and 22 year-old Madeleine Stout, whose rare endocrine disorder was detected and successfully treated because of a newborn screening test she received in the hours after her birth. If left undetected her condition could have caused significant developmental delays or intellectual disabilities.

“Newborn screening is a success story that began right here in Massachusetts,” said Secretary Polanowicz. “Over the past five decades this program has been protecting the health and safety of millions of young lives like Madeleine’s.”

A native of Worcester County, Madeleine recently graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in biology, works as a research assistant at Children’s Hospital, and is planning to apply to medical school. Her mother, Michelle Graveline, also attended today’s ceremony. Their story is part of a newborn screening exhibit that will be displayed in Doric Hall at the Massachusetts State House through Dec. 13.

“I was happy to participate in today’s event because it gave me an opportunity to put a human face on the importance of newborn screening,” said Stout. “I also wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who has worked hard to make Massachusetts such a leader in this area. I’m sure our story is just one of many about families who have been helped by this program.”

In 1963, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to mandate statewide newborn screening to promote early detection and treatment of rare disorders that can threaten the health and development of newborns.

Over the past 20 years, Massachusetts has screened more than 2.6 million newborns, with more than 2,800 babies testing positive for potentially harmful conditions.

To recognize both Massachusetts’ leadership and the importance of newborn screening to the families of the commonwealth, Governor Deval Patrick has proclaimed the week of December 9-16 as Newborn Screening Awareness Week.

Speakers at today’s event also lauded the partnership that helped make Massachusetts a leader in newborn screening. Created by DPH, the Massachusetts program has been operated on behalf of DPH by UMass Medical School’s New England Newborn Screening Program since 1997. The program screens nearly all of the approximately 75,000 babies born annually in Massachusetts.

“As with any great public health program, success is driven not by a single entity but through the partnership of many,” said DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett. “With the support of experts from our Newborn Screening Advisory Committee, all of our birthing hospitals throughout the state and with UMass Medical School, we’ve built a program that has truly advanced both the science and the mission of newborn screening, and we can all take great pride in that.”

“At UMass Medical School, we could not be more proud of the partnership that has achieved so much for so many children and their families in Massachusetts,” said Executive Vice Chancellor Joyce A. Murphy, of UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division, which the New England Newborn Screening Program is part of. “We are especially grateful for the leadership of DPH, our hospital partners and for the leadership provided by Dr. Roger Eaton, the director of the New England Newborn Screening Program, and Dr. Anne Marie Comeau, the deputy director. They, and the entire team at the New England Newborn Screening Program, deserve our thanks for their tireless service on behalf of the residents of Massachusetts.”

Information for Parents on Newborn Screenings

  • Discuss newborn screening with your prenatal health care provider.
  • Serious health and developmental problems can be prevented if certain rare disorders are detected early.
  • Screening is important because most newborns look healthy at birth, even babies who have conditions that can be detected through newborn screening.
  • Visit the New England Newborn Screening Program’s website to get more information on the program.

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