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Study Sees Parental Interest in Newborn Genomic Testing Shortly After Birth

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The majority of parents surveyed at a center in Boston during the first two days after their child's delivery expressed interest in newborn genomic screening, according to a study published in Genetics in Medicine today.

A team from the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston's Children's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School surveyed 514 parents at a Brigham and Women's Hospital well-baby nursery during the first 48 hours after their children were born. The parents, who had received information about the human health clues that can be contained in the genome, generally expressed some level of interest in newborn genomic testing during the subsequent survey.

Just over one-third of parents said they would be "somewhat" interested in such screening, while 28 percent described themselves as "very" interested. Another 18 percent were "extremely" interested.

The researchers did not detect any clear differences in attitudes about newborn genetic screening when they considered factors such as a family's disease history, education level, age, gender, or ethnicity. Likewise, parents' attitudes about testing appeared similar regardless of whether they already had other older children.

The team found the same level of interest in newborn genomic screening in some three-quarters of the couples surveyed, though married participants and parents of children with possible health concerns seemed slight less interested in such tests. None of the parents surveyed subsequently opted out of existing heel stick blood tests mandated by the state.

"Parents' strong interest in genomic screening for their newborns, as demonstrated by this study, underscores the importance of further research exploring the public health impacts of actually providing testing," corresponding author Robert Green, a genetics researcher affiliated with Harvard, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Partners Personalized Medicine, said in a statement, "particularly as it continues to become less expensive and more widely available."

Together with Boston Children's Hospital researcher Alan Beggs, Green directs an effort known as the BabySeq Project, which plans to offer genomic sequencing to hundreds of parents with sick or healthy infants starting early next year. That project will proceed provided it successfully clears IRB review and approval.