Australia leads the way in new screening technology for babies

Australia is one of the first countries in the world to implement new screening technology across all States that will help detect an increased number of diseases in newborns.

Department of Health A/Director General Dr Neale Fong said the technology, tandem mass spectrometry, which was introduced in WA this month, was the biggest step forward in newborn screening in the past 35 years.

"This new innovation has been pioneered in Australia and increases the detection at birth of inheritable disorders from four to over 20," he said.

All babies will be tested for free at birth for the early signs of treatable disorders by the WA Newborn Screening Program at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children.

Dr Neale Fong said tandem mass spectrometry would enable screening for an expanded range of inherited disorders which, with early intervention, could be treated.

"For the past 35 years every baby has had a Guthrie test for Congential Hypothryroidism, Phenylketonuria, Galactosaemia and Cystic Fibrosis by taking a few drops of blood from the baby’s heel shortly after birth," he said.

"Screening by tandem mass spectrometry uses the same process but is able to detect an expanded range of disorders of amino acid, organic acid and fatty acid metabolism in a single test."

Dr Fong said that these disorders were not common, but if not diagnosed in the newborn period a child could become severely disabled or suffer an early death.

"Though individually quite rare, about one in every thousand WA babies are born with one of the conditions detected by the expanded newborn screening program."

"We aim to improve the health of Western Australians by reducing the incidence of preventable disease," Dr Fong said.

"What better way can we do that than by detecting health problems in our children early?"

A new parent information pamphlet "Your Newborn Baby’s Screening Test" is being distributed to all maternity hospitals and birthing centres.

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