Basic information and updates on the Expanded Newborn Screening (NBS) and Nutrigenomics programs of the government were presented to biotech-affiliated professionals and students at the Health Forum of the 2015 National Biotechnology Week (NBW) on November 23, 2015.
Led by the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), the forum shed light on the progress of implementing the Expanded NBS Program, the trial for which is being conducted in selected hospitals in Metro Manila.
Newborn screening is a procedure for the early identification of infants affected by certain genetic, metabolic, or infectious conditions that may lead to mental retardation or morbidity if left untreated, thus saving more lives and reducing unnecessary negative health outcomes in Filipino newborns.
Speaking at the said forum, Dr. Maria Melanie Liberty Alcausin, Newborn Screening Reference Center Director, referred to the current coverage of newborn screening in the Philippines as including only congenital hypothyroidism, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, phenylketonuria, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, galactosemia, and maple syrup urine disease.
However, Dr. Alcausin reported that the expanded screening includes 22 more disorders like hemoglobinopathies and additional metabolic disorders, namely, organic acid, fatty acid oxidation, and amino acid disorders.
The latter are included in the standard care globally, while the expanded NBS will be optional to parents in all participating facilities, the DOH declared.
The DOH added that the first option is the screening of six disorders at ₱550, which is included in the newborn care package for Philhealth members, while the second option is the full complement of disorders at ₱1,500.
At present, the DOH is negotiating with Philhealth to increase subsidy for the Expanded NBS.
The expansion of the coverage of the NBS program was prompted by the results of the study on Enhancing case detection of selected inherited disorders through expanded newborn screening in the Philippines by Dr. Carmencita Padilla and Dr. Tomas Aguirre of the University of the Philippines Manila.
The data on Filipino newborns screened through the California newborn screening program from 2005 to 2009 revealed that serious disorders were detected which are not included in the Philippines’ existing program.
Meanwhile, Jacus S. Nacis, science research specialist I of FNRI’s Nutrigenomics Unit, introduced the audience to the concept of nutrigenomics, the area of nutrition that uses molecular tools to search, access and understand the several responses obtained through a certain diet applied between individuals or population groups.
According to Nacis, individuals or groups of people with genetic predisposition to nutrition-related or lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases like hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, overweight and obesity and cancer, among others, now have a fighting chance to leave healthy, normal lives instead of surrendering one’s future to heredity.
On the other hand, Nacis’ colleague Vanessa Joy A. Tomiteo, spoke on the topic “Personalizing the Diet of Juan and Juana: Does eating brown rice benefit Juan and Juana’s Genes?”
Timoteo stated that eating brown rice regularly can lower blood glucose levels, weight, body mass index, and blood pressure of Filipinos carrying the normal or wild-type allele. An allele is an alternative form of the same gene. The dietary fiber, B-vitamins and minerals in brown rice help prevent many diseases whether caused by our genes, unhealthy diet, or lack of physical activity.