Friday, 13 April 2012

New-born Screening Expanded

The testing of new-born babies in the U.K. for a variety of diseases is nothing new. Around 700,000 babies are currently tested each year for a range of genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anaemia. The BBC has reported that screening for genetic conditions is to be expanded to cover some rare but important conditions in an attempt to give more children a chance of a long, healthy life.

Some of the new conditions that midwives will be screening for include the exotically named maple syrup urine disease and long chain fatty acidaemia. (I had always wondered how a blood sample was obtained from a baby for such screening, but the BBC article I read solved that little mystery for me – the midwives prick the baby’s heel and obtain drops of blood from the foot).

This adds to the whole screening process that takes place in the NHS designed to ensure that mothers and their children have the best chance in life. Mothers-to-be have their blood routinely screened. Rhesus negative mothers who are carrying Rhesus positive children need to be monitored carefully to prevent Haemolytic Disease of the New-born. I have had the privilege of visiting a hospital laboratory in recent weeks where such screening was taking place and it was quite heart-warming to know that Lorne blood grouping reagents were being used in the process.

Whilst this new expansion of screening is a pilot scheme, it should not be long before it is rolled out nationwide as a matter of routine. It confirms the UK as a world leader in screening policy. Long may it continue!

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