Newborn screening of inherited metabolic disorders by tandem mass spectrometry: past, present and future
KeywordsTandem mass spectrometry, inborn errors of metabolism, metabolic screening, newborn
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AbstractInborn errors of metabolism are inherited biochemical disorders caused by lack of a functional enzyme, transmembrane transporter, or similar protein, which then results in blockage of the corresponding metabolic pathway. Taken individually, inborn errors of metabolism are rare. However, as a group these diseases are relatively frequent and they may account for most of neonatal mortality and need of health resources. The detection of genetic metabolic disorders should occur in a pre-symptomatic phase. Recently, the introduction of the tandem mass spectrometric methods for metabolite analysis has changed our ability to detect intermediates of metabolism in smaller samples and provides the means to detect a large number of metabolic disorders in a single analytical run. Screening panels now include a large number of disorders that may not meet all the criteria that have been used as a reference for years. The rationale behind inclusion or exclusion of a respective disorder is difficult to understand in most cases and it may impose an ethical dilemma. The current organization is an important tool of secondary preventive medicine, essential for children’s healthcare, but the strong inhomogeneity of the regional models of screening applied today create in the Italian neonatal population macroscopic differences with regards to healthcare, which is in effect mainly diversified by the newborn’s place of birth, in possible violation of the universal criterion of the equality of all citizens. Carefully weighed arguments are urgently needed since patient organizations, opinion leaders and politicians are pressing to proceed with expansion of neonatal population screening.