Neonatal and carrier screening for rare diseases: how innovation challenges screening criteria worldwide

Martina C. Cornel*, Tessel Rigter, Marleen E. Jansen, Lidewij Henneman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Screening for rare diseases first began more than 50 years ago with neonatal bloodspot screening (NBS) for phenylketonuria, and carrier screening for Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anaemia and β-thalassaemia. NBS’s primary aim is health gain for children, while carrier screening enables autonomous reproductive choice. While screening can be beneficial, it also has the potential to cause harm and thus decisions are needed on whether a specific screening is worthwhile. These decisions are usually based on screening principles and criteria. Technological developments, both treatment driven and test driven, have led to expansions in neonatal screening and carrier screening. This article demonstrates how the dynamics and expansions in NBS and carrier screening have challenged four well-known screening criteria (treatment, test, target population and programme evaluation), and the decision-making based on them. We show that shifting perspectives on screening criteria for NBS as well as carrier screening lead to converging debates in these separate fields. For example, the child is traditionally considered to be the beneficiary in NBS, but the family and society can also benefit. Vice versa, carrier screening may be driven by disease prevention, rather than reproductive autonomy, raising cross-disciplinary questions regarding potential beneficiaries and which diseases to include. In addition, the stakeholders from these separate fields vary: Globally NBS is often governed as a public health programme while carrier screening is usually available via medical professionals. The article concludes with a call for an exchange of vision and knowledge among all stakeholders of both fields to attune the dynamics of screening.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-265
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Community Genetics
Issue number2
Early online date19 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

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