Newborn screening (NBS) is designed for pre-symptomatic identification of serious conditions for which there are effective treatments that must begin early. Central to NBS policy is evidence that pre-symptomatic treatment is more effective than treatment after symptoms appear. Unfortunately, such evidence is difficult to amass because most nominated conditions are rare and the effort required to identify pre-symptomatic infants for clinical trials is substantial. Researchers and advocates find themselves in a classic ?Catch 22? situation?NBS cannot happen without sufficient evidence, but gathering this evidence necessarily requires large-scale population screening. This problem is such a formidable barrier to translational research that many disorders will never have the evidence needed to justify inclusion in NBS programs. We propose to develop and implement Early Check?a research program in which voluntary screening for a panel of conditions is offered on a statewide basis. Early Check would allow rapid screening for new candidate conditions, advance understanding of early disease, and facilitate registry and clinical trial recruitment. We will build and implement an experimental research program with an ongoing evaluation component in which we revise and improve the program as we learn from our implementation experiences and engagement with the general public and families directly affected by screening. Once we have finalized all aspects of the program, we will offer screening for a gradually expanding set of conditions to all 120,000 birthing families per year in North Carolina. Our first condition offered for screening will be spinal muscular atrophy, a life-threatening degenerative motor neuron disorder. We will determine participation rates; conduct screening; return results; provide counseling and clinical services; support families in caregiving decisions; inform families of ongoing clinical trials; provide support for families in deciding whether they want to participate in a clinical trial; and follow children and families over time to study benefits, harms, and psychosocial outcomes of screening. We will seek external funds to expand Early Check to other candidate disorders, such as fragile X syndrome. Implementation data will be used to refine the process, inform replication, and establish an infrastructure for testing other candidate conditions. To achieve long-term viability, we will develop a model of public-private partnerships based on collaborative engagement with federal agencies, foundations, patient advocacy groups, and industry.
Health problems included in state newborn screening programs must have strong evidence of benefit before they are included in screening. But for many rare disorders, evidence of benefit is difficult to gather, especially if the treatment must be provided before symptoms appear. This project will establish a voluntary newborn screening research program to study the benefits of screening for rare disorders so that policy makers will have the evidence they need to make good decisions about newborn screening policy.