In 2016, Victoria is celebrating 50 years of the newborn screening program. Based at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, The Victorian Clinical Genetics Services (VCGS) plays a vital role in this program. VCGS operates the screening laboratory for the State and has analysed nearly 80,000 newborn blood samples in 2015.
Newborn screening started in Victoria in 1966 screening for the genetic disorder phenylketonuria or PKU. Babies with PKU are unable to digest protein in their diet and can become very sick when they are weeks old. Identifying these babies early means treatment can be provided and they can live long, healthy lives.
The screening program now screens for about 25 rare, but serious medical conditions, including cystic fibrosis and hypothyroidism. The blood for screening is taken hours after birth, by pricking the baby’s heel. These samples are collected onto newborn screening cards, or ‘Guthrie cards’ named after Dr Robert Guthrie who invented them.
According to Dr Damien Bruno, Laboratory Director at VCGS, newborn screening is an extremely successful public health program that can make a huge difference in the lives of young families.
‘Many parents can’t recall their child’s heel prick test, but for the few who do receive a diagnosis as a result of newborn screening, it can make an incredible difference in the future of their child,’ said Dr Bruno.
In February, VCGS in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services hosted a one-day symposium to celebrate the Anniversary. Researchers, doctors, nurses and families from across the State attended. A celebratory book was also produced to mark the occasion. The book and the presentations from the day can be viewed here.
More information about the newborn screening program can be found here.