History of Newborn Screening Timeline

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National Newborn Screening Awareness month is celebrated every September. As 2022 marks the 60th anniversary of Newborn Screening (NBS), follow the timeline to see how NBS has become one of the most successful public health programs in the U.S. over the years.

Note: This timeline is best viewed on a desktop computer. Sources and landmark publications are listed below the timeline.

Since the NBS program was launched in the 1960s, every baby born in the U.S. could be screened for only handful of genetic diseases. Today, all 50 states use the blood spot test to check for at least 31 of the 35 core conditions listed on the Recommended Uniform Screening Panel (RUSP). Each state has the choice to provide additional screenings for the hundreds of childhood genetic diseases that have effective treatments. Unfortunately, conditions are added one-at-a-time on a state-by-state basis, making the process slow (5-6 years per condition), laborious and costly.

Efforts are underway to modernize newborn screening by aligning all states to screen for the same conditions, as well as expedite their implementation process. Additionally, genomic sequencing is able to provide diagnoses more rapidly than ever before for hundreds of treatable disorders; transformative cell and gene therapies can now be used to save more lives and improve healthcare outcomes.

Newborn screening (NBS) is a program to check babies for certain genetic, metabolic, hormonal and functional conditions that may be treatable, but are not often apparent at birth. Of nearly four million babies born annually in the United States, 98% are tested in the first two days of life and about one in 300 are found to have a treatable disorder.

There are three parts to newborn screening – a blood test and hearing and heart screenings. For the blood test or “heel stick,” a healthcare provider pricks the baby’s heel and places a few drops of blood onto an absorbent paper card that is sent to a lab for analysis. Results are returned to the baby’s provider and birth hospital. If the results are positive, then the parents are notified, the doctor orders additional testing to confirm the diagnosis, and the baby is referred to a specialist for the appropriate treatment.

Learn More

To learn more about newborn screening in your state, including active legislation, you can find additional information and get involved at Everylife Foundation’s Newborn Screening Action Center.

Scientific & Medical Advances

Public Health / Legislative Changes

1934

Discovery of phenylketonuria (PKU) and the first urine test

This is the first test used to verify PKU.

More A Norwegian doctor, Asbjörn Fölling, discovers PKU, a rare, inherited disease that causes intellectual disability, seizures and deafness if left untreated in newborns. He develops the first test to verify PKU in untreated patients; their urine contains a chemical, phenylpyruvic acid, that turns green when mixed with ferric chloride.

1934
1953

Double helix discovery

This milestone discovery gives rise to modern molecular biology and insights into the genetic code and protein synthesis of cells.

More James Watson and Francis Crick, with assistance from Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, discover the double helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

1953
1957

Wet diaper test for PKU

This is the beginning of a mass effort to screen for PKU in babies. Since pediatricians can perform this test in their offices, they no longer need to collect urine samples and send them to a lab for diagnosis.

More The wet diaper test for PKU is developed by Dr. Willard Centerwall from the Department of Pediatrics School of Medicine at the College of Medical Evangelists in Los Angeles, California.

1957
1960

Dr. Robert Guthrie develops first blood test for PKU

The Guthrie test continues to be used today.

More Recognized as the “Father of Newborn Screening,” Dr. Robert Guthrie knew first-hand the lifelong effects of PKU  on patients and their families as his niece had the disease. He was a microbiologist at the State University of New York in Buffalo and pediatrician at the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital when he developed what would be known as the “Guthrie test” – a simple and inexpensive blood spot test using dried filter paper, called a Guthrie card, to screen for PKU in newborns. If the blood sample from the baby’s heel stick contained enough Phe for a specific bacterium to grow, then a doctor could determine if the infant had PKU.

1960
1961

"Test Every Newborn For PKU"

The U.S. Children’s Bureau deems the Guthrie test for PKU as safe and effective for newborns, thus clearing the path toward early detection and mass screening.

More A pilot study of 400,000+ infants in 29 states assesses the test’s suitability for a national screening program through public health departments. By the time the trial ends in 1963, the Bureau  adopts the slogan, “Test Every Newborn For PKU” and many states have begun screening programs for PKU.

1961
1962

Federal ad campaign to increase awareness of NBS

More

President Kennedy’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Mental Retardation hires the Advertising Council to run a national ad campaign advocating the PKU test “for all babies everywhere” and urging citizens to demand compulsory testing of all infants in states without legislation.

1962
1963

Massachusetts passes first NBS law to screen for PKU

After Dr. Guthrie’s findings regarding his blood spot test and the benefits of early treatment are published in Pediatrics, Massachusetts becomes the first state to mandate NBS for PKU.

More Other states, including Oregon, Ohio, Maryland and New York soon follow, even though state medical societies and the American Medical Association oppose legislation requiring compulsory testing at this time. Publication: A Simple Phenylalanine Method for Detecting Phenylketonuria in Large Populations of Newborn Infants

1963
1965

States with NBS laws: 32

All but five make testing for PKU compulsory.

1965
1968

WHO report identifies NBS selection criteria

More This public health report, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), is the first to identify criteria to guide the selection of conditions suitable for screening, based on the ability to detect the condition at an early stage and the availability of an acceptable treatment.

1968
1972

Congress passes National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act

This is the beginning of a systematic approach to universal NBS.

More Through the efforts of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act is passed. It leads to statewide support for screening programs for the disease and other genetic disorders that included education and family counseling.

1972
1975

States with NBS laws: 43

90% of all newborns are being tested.

1975
1975

Scoring system developed as basis for uniform criteria

More A scoring system for neonatal abstinence syndrome is devised and implemented as both a clinical and investigative tool. It provides a basis for developing uniform criteria for the assessment and treatment of the neonate born to the addicted mother.
Publication: Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: Assessment and Management

1975
1977

First DNA sequencing technique developed

This milestone discovery gives rise to modern molecular biology and insights into the genetic code and protein synthesis of cells.

More Frederick Sanger, a biochemist in England, develops a way to sequence long sections of DNA molecules. His first fully sequenced DNA-based genome, that of phiX174, a 5386 base-pair bacterial virus, earns him a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. “Sanger sequencing” was the most widely used technique for 25 years.

1977
1978

CDC creates Newborn Screening Quality Assurance Program

More The Center for Communicable Disease Prevention, now called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) begins the Newborn Screening Quality Assurance Program. This program ensured the accuracy of NBS test results and provided quality assurance services to 670+ NBS laboratories worldwide.

1978
1990

Human Genome Project launches

More The National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy publish a 15-year plan on mapping the human genome and determining the sequence of all its 3.2 billion letters; mapping and sequencing the genomes of other organisms important to the study of biology; and developing technology to analyze DNA.

1990
Early 1990s

Tandem mass spectrometry introduced

Tandem mass spectrometry increased the number of diseases that could be screened for at the same time using a single dried blood spot to more than 30.
Early 1990s
1997

NIH task force determines genetic testing recommendations

More Following a two-year analysis of genetic testing, labs and healthcare provider qualifications, a National Human Genome Research Institute task force publishes their report stating that “genetic testing in the U.S. has developed successfully, providing options for avoiding, preventing and treating inherited disorders.”
Publication: Promoting Safe and Effective Genetic Testing in the United States

1997
1999

NBS national task force created

More The Maternal and Child Health Bureau collaborates with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to form a national Task Force on Newborn Screening. It recommends that NBS be a part of public health agencies that involve health professionals, families and the public in the oversight of NBS.

1999
2002

NBS guidelines developed for original RUSP

More The Maternal and Child Health Bureau commissions the American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) to develop standardized guidelines for NBS. ACMG evaluates 81 conditions and places 29 in a core screening panel, which become the original Recommended Universal Screening Panel (RUSP), and another 25 to a secondary level.

2002
2003

NBS: 6 conditions

The majority of states (46) screen for only six disorders.

2003
2003

Human Genome Project 92% completed

More The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium announces the successful completion of the Human Genome Project, two years ahead of schedule; however, it only covers about 92% of the total human genome due to sequencing gaps.

2003
2003

Formation of Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children (ACHDNC)

More ACHDNC is formed under the Public Health Service Act 2000 to advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on NBS. It is comprised of experts in ethics and heritable disorders who work closely with the ACMG toward developing the RUSP as a uniform standard for the U.S.

2003
2005

ACMG submits report recommending core conditions for RUSP

More ACMG submits the report, “Newborn Screening: Toward a Uniform Panel and System” commissioned by ACHDNC recommending the adoption of a Core Condition Panel of 29 conditions, and 25 more conditions as secondary targets, for the RUSP for all state NBS programs. The executive summary was published in Pediatrics in 2006.

2005
2007

New DNA sequencing technology launched

More Illumina launched the Genome Analyzer showcasing its Sequencing by Synthesis (SBS) chemistry and increased output capability, forever changing how sequencing is done.

2007
2007

NBS: 29 conditions

Only 10 states and the District of Columbia require infants to be screened for ALL 29 of the recommended disorders.

2007
2008

Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007 & Baby's First Test

More

Congress passes the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-204), which establishes national newborn screening guidelines and helps facilitate comprehensive newborn screening in every state. It includes key provisions such as the establishment of Baby’s First Test and a program to regulate the quality of labs that process NBS tests.

2008
2010

Recommended Uniform Screening Panel (RUSP) adopted

More The RUSP is a standardized list of disorders, supported by the ACHDNC and recommended by the HHS, for states to screen as part of their state universal NBS programs. Disorders are chosen based on evidence that supports the potential net benefit of screening, the ability of states to screen for the disorder, and the availability of effective treatments.

2010
2010

The 1000 Genomes Project

More The goal of the 1000 Genomes Project was to develop a comprehensive, open resource of human genetic variation across worldwide populations. A collection of related articles was published in Nature.

2010
2011

States with NBS laws: 50

All 50 states start testing for at least 26 disorders.

2011
2014

Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act reauthorized for first time

More Congress reauthorizes the Act for the first time (P.L. 113-240) to expedite the screening process and train healthcare professionals on how to share results with families; parental consent is now required before residual dried blood spots from NBS can be used in research.

2014
2016

RUSP: 34 conditions

RUSP includes 34 core conditions and 26 secondary conditions.

2016
2019

Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act reauthorized for second time

More This Act (S.2158/H.R.2507) reauthorizes state grants to expand and improve screening programs, provide educational resources to parents and healthcare providers, improve follow-up care for infants with a detected condition, and ensure that every infant is screened for conditions that have a known treatment according to the RUSP.

2019
2020

NBS: 35 conditions

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require screening for at least 31 out of 35 treatable conditions.

2020
2021

Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act of 2021 is pending

More This bill was passed by the House (H.R. 482), but the Senate did not vote on its companion bill (S.350). Efforts are underway to include it in the 2022 Federal budget package. It would align statutory requirements for research on non-identified newborn blood spots with federal regulations governing research on human subjects.

2021
2021

Survey published on public's perceptions of WGS for NBS

Results from a Genomics England report found that “most people are supportive of WGS in newborns if carefully done.”

More The survey explored, “What are the implications for the National Health Service and society of using whole genome sequencing for newborn screening?”
Publication: Implications of Whole Genome Sequencing for Newborn Screening – A Public Dialogue

2021
2022

Human Genome Project 100% finished

More Researchers finish a complete, gap-free sequencing of 3B+ bases (or letters) of DNA within the human genome with the help of new technology. More than 2M letters of the genetic code were added. This is essential for understanding human genomic variation and the genetic contributions to certain diseases.

2022
2022

NBS-by-rWGS BeginNGS pilot launches

More
RCIGM launches BeginNGS, a novel program to advance and evaluate the scalability of a diagnostic and precision medicine guidance tool to screen newborns for approximately 400 genetic diseases that have known treatment options using rapid Whole Genome Sequencing (rWGS®). The program was described in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Publication: A Genome Sequencing System for Universal Newborn Screening, Diagnosis, and Precision Medicine for Severe Genetic Diseases

2022
1934The Guthrie Test: How Did It All Begin? | Museum of Disabilities
1934, 1960Phenylketonuria (PKU) and Newborn Screening | NICHD – Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
1957AJPH: Phenylketonuria: Screening Programs And Testing Methods
1960Guthrie Symposium brings together researchers, families to discuss advances in newborn screening – University at Buffalo
1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1975Final Report of the Task Force on Genetic Testing
1961The test for PKU – UB Reporter
1963APHL: A Brief History of Newborn Screening
1965The Political History of PKU: Reflections on 50 Years of Newborn Screening | Pediatrics
1968Revisiting Wilson and Jungner in the genomic age: a review of screening criteria over the past 40 years | Bulletin World Health Organization
1972American Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology: Legislation and funding for sickle cell services, 1972-1982
1975Addictive Diseases: Neonatal abstinence syndrome: assessment and management
1978Newborn Screening Quality Assurance Program (NSQAP)
1990The Newborn Screening Story: How One Simple Test Changed Lives, Science, and Health in America
1997Task Force Makes Final Recommendations on – U.S. Genetic Testing
1999Pediatrics: American Academy of Pediatrics Newborn Screening Task Force recommendations: how far have we come?
1999, 2003, 2014, 2019History of the ACHDNC | HRSA
2002, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2016Brief History of Newborn Screening | NICHD – Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
2003As Advancements In Treatment Drive A Newborn Screening Evolution, Will States And The Federal Government Be Able To Keep Up? | Health Affairs
2005Newborn Screening: Toward a Uniform Screening Panel And System
2005Pediatrics: Newborn Screening: Toward a Uniform Screening Panel and System—Executive Summary
2007RareAdvocates.org
2008PUBLIC LAW 110–204—APR. 24, 2008
2010Recommended Uniform Screening Panel | HRSA
2021H.R.482 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): Newborn Screening Saves Lives
Reauthorization Act of 2021 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress
2021Newborn Screening – Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act – EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases
2021Publication: Pediatrics: Expert Evaluation of Strategies to Modernize Newborn Screening in the United States
2021Publication: Implications of whole genome sequencing for newborn screening
2022BeginNGS | RCIGM

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