February 3, 2006
COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT
Edmund Pellegrino, M.D., Chairman
Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Rebecca S. Dresser, J.D.
Washington University School of Law
Daniel W. Foster, M.D.
University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School
Michael S. Gazzaniga, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
P. George, D.Phil., J.D.
William B. Hurlbut, M.D.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Gilbert C. Meilaender,
Janet D. Rowley, M.D., D.Sc.
The University of Chicago
Diana J. Schaub, Ph.D.
SESSION 5: PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY AND
PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS IN CHILDREN
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: I think in deference to
our speaker to allow him sufficient time for presentation and you
sufficient time for interrogation in the best sense of that word
— this is not a hearing. I needed to modify that — this morning
we switch our attention to the field of psychopharmacology in children, part of our overall attempt to look at
some of the important ethical issues in childhood.
Dr. Biederman is the Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical
School and Chief of Pediatric Psychopharmacology at Massachusetts
General Hospital. There are no extended introductions, and he understands
that and knows that you're familiar with his curricula vitae.
Professor Biederman, I turn it over to you.
DR. BIEDERMAN: Well, first of all, the interrogation
part is a very serious matter, and I was sure torture would not
DR. BIEDERMAN: So it is a great pleasure to be with you.
This subject that I'm going to cover is an area of enormous
interest, enormous amount of media attention, and I'm glad that you
are taking this on.
I am a practicing clinician and a scientist. So all of the
issues that have interested me have been driven by clinical concerns.
In any event, I would like to share with you some general
issues. Let me see. Where is my presentation?
First of all, as you know, the scope of mental disorders
affecting children is extraordinarily large. It is maybe between 12
and 22 percent of children in this country and perhaps all over the
world have major mental illnesses. This translates into seven and a
half to 40 million children affected. About ten percent of those
children are thought to have severe functional impairment. Those are
children that are institutionalized in foster placement, require
massive amounts of psychosocial and psychoeducational interventions.
However, less than 20 percent of these children receive any
mental health services, and they never see a child or adolescent
Many of these children, of course, would benefit from a
treatment that may enhance their ability to be in a less restrictive
environment, and so if you have a major psychiatric illness and the
only intervention is institutionalization, it may not be the best
service that the child can receive.
There is a serious problem in our field regarding
manpower. There are less than 6,300 trained child and adolescent
psychiatrists currently practicing in this country, and we estimate
that probably by the amount of children that are affected with mental
illness is that we may need at least 30,000 to meet current demand.
So I would like to say to you that of those 6,300 not all
practice child psychology. Many just do psychotherapeutic
interventions and do not take on the medical aspects of the
profession. This need is projected to greatly increase over the
years. So we probably will need something like 50,000. We probably
are never going to get there.
So the next hope or the next best choice is to count on
informed primary care physicians that will take on some of these
responsibilities and help manage the many children in many parts of the
country where there is not a single child psychologist to be found.
I would like to editorialize a little bit that the problem
of manpower is extraordinarily severe. Remember that affects not only
the number of child psychologists that we have, but the quality of our
ability to train the next generation of child psychiatrists. So if we
don't have a critical mass of high level child psychiatrists, we
are not going to educate at the level that the new generation may need
to be aware of the problems and the issues in front of the profession.
I suggested when I was invited to focus on one neurobiological
problem like ADHD as the model of the problem of linking behaviors
with the brain. In pediatric psychiatry we have very little approved
medications beyond the treatment of ADHD. This has changed somewhat
in the last few years, but not dramatically. In the last few years
not only that we don't have approval for many drugs, but we
have black boxes for all of them that create issues that I would
like to make you aware of — what is the impact in our society
and in the minds of the clinicians practicing out there.
So there is a vicious circle that immediately has created concerns about
children, creates a bad climate to do research on children that
is considered perhaps not ethical. So if we don't have evidence,
what is more ethical, not to treat? We still have to treat. To
treat in the absence of evidence or to do the studies that would
allow us to have the evidence to treat ethically? So that's
There is also an enormous amount of prejudices and misconceptions
in our society about psychopathology in children. There is some
kind of naive belief that all children are angelical, and there
is something wrong to the child. Somebody is doing something bad
to the child. So there is no recognition of the fact that children,
like adults, have bona fide psychopathology disorders that translate
in aberrant behaviors, and the assumptions that it's just all
psychosocial and if every child were to have loving parents and
loving teachers, no child would be affected is really extraordinarily
There is very poor public acceptance of the use of medications
in children. There is an enormous amount of bad faith. I don't
know. Probably you know more than me, but every week there is some
kind of poisoning of the children, over-medicating, and so on and
so forth. And periodically we are dealing with this alarming statistics
about bad things, and some of these alarming statistics led to,
I believe, all psychotropics having black boxes.
I would like to address two of those alarming statistics: This
issue about suicidality and suicidal behaviors with the use of serotonergic
antidepressants — as a context I would like to say that the
serotonergic antidepressants provided the field of psychiatry in
general and child psychiatry with very safe medicines, medically
speaking. Before that we had tricyclic antidepressants and drugs
like imipramine or amitriptyline or desipramine drugs that had very
narrow margin of safety. Overdoses could be lethal. They require
a high level of monitoring. These drugs could be arrhythmogenic.
So the advent of the serotonergic drugs from the strictly speaking
medical context provided a very safe environment.
As you know, these drugs over time became useful to treat an enormous
chunk of psychopathology, not only the patient, but anxiety, obsessive-compulsive
disease, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders, eating
disorders. So it provided a very safe environment to treat children.
So this data that started with paroxetine, then extended to venlafaxine,
included all under the present, particularly as its rise led the
British regulatory agency to proscribe altogether the use of SSRIs
in the end.
The FDA took a less drastic position that has changed now
over time and has been softened in light of evidence that has emerged.
Part of the problem is that in clinical trials, two problems may have
driven these statistics.
I would like to say this about the three percent versus about one
and a half percent of placebo that we're talking about here:
Part of the problem is that in the clinical trials with depression
and all over the world there is a very high placebo response, and
there is a little bit of a disconnect. I wish I had a placebo response
when I have three depressed youngsters. I would like to make sure
that you are aware that for reasons that have to do with the selection
of subjects that participate in clinical trials, a child that may
be in a deprived environment when participating in a clinical trial
has an enormous amount of attention. People are taking care of
the child and the family.
The child is immediately a very important person, and so on
and so forth, and that has very impactful effects, even though it's
not the treatment, on allowing people to feel better. So the placebo
effect that has been so high did not permit the separation of the
active ingredient from the placebo. It's not that the drug did not
work, but it did not separate from placebo. The magnitude, the
absolute magnitude of effect, was as high as in adult depression, but
the placebo was higher.
So what I would speculate is many of the children that
were entered in this clinical trial may have had some psychosocial type
of adjustment difficulties with depressed features instead the
melancholic problems that we face.
The concern that I would like to tell you is that in clinical practice
treating depressed youngsters is a nightmare. I wish, again, I
had the 60 percent of placebo that we have in clinical trials.
That is not true to life in what I have to take care to do when
I deal with depression in the young in my clinic.
So I would like to tell you the numbers, that out of 4,400 cases
that participated in controlled clinical trials, largely adolescents,
there were 78 that had some kind of [suicidal ideation]. Nobody
died. I believe that nobody was even hospitalized. It was defined
as ideation that the youngster reported to the treating clinician
or the family reported. And that was larger than 3.8 versus 2.1
if you take all of these 4,400 kids.
What I would like to share with you is these numbers here,
that if you take what is the rate of suicidality, including very
serious, injurious suicide attempt in high school children in this
country, look at these numbers. In the population, we're dealing
with 20 or 30 percent, not three percent. So depression, as you know,
increases this risk, does not decrease this risk.
So what we see in clinical trials is a small blip to the problem.
These are not depressed. These are population rates. These are
the Center for Disease Control statistics.
So suicidal ideations are extraordinarily common in our
society. The data that we have regarding the life saving components of
the antidepressants is in the opposite direction. In statistics
available, and this is a paper published in a very reputable
psychiatric journal, the Archive of General Psychology, your
increased use of antidepressants in the '90s, largely SSRIs, led to
a decrease in the rate of suicide, not an increase.
And there is a paper that I enclosed in the outline, this
paper by Dr. Greg Simon that took a very large database to examine this
issue that I just briefly would like to mention, and if you take the
young children and adolescents, the risk for suicidality is much higher
before you start medication than after you start medication.
These are months. If you look at weeks, so this is before and
this is after. So in a large population, this is more true to life.
We don't have any evidence that that's the case. However,
a black box, the public and the treating community may not distinguish
the potential remote risk from the tangible and present risk, and
the results are that families may be handed by the pharmacy a handout
that would say that this will make your child commit suicide. The
primary care physicians that otherwise would have been able to prescribe
these medications for the depressed youngster or somebody with severe
anxiety or OCD will not do that anymore and will refer to psychiatrists.
As I said to you before, they are nowhere to be found.
Okay? So the result is the children will not be treated with the drugs
that can be lifesaving.
The other thing that I would like briefly to mention is the
paper that was published in JAMA re Dr. Zito. Let me just go back.
In this paper, she looked at the trends in the last decade in prescribing
medications to preschoolers, and what she was reporting in the paper
is that less than two percent of preschoolers were receiving psychotropics.
The way that the data were presented in that paper, instead of percentages
were presented as per thousand. So for the uninformed reader, as
you know, as you present data when you change your vertical and
horizontal axis, anything can be one from 1.2, if you present it
in particularly alarming ways, can be quite alarming.
I would say 90 percent of the conditions that emerge in childhood
emerge in the preschool years. So I said to you before that about
at a minimum ten percent of children have serious mental illnesses.
Most of these mental illnesses will emerge in the preschool years,
and if we treat 1.5 percent of those, and most of these treatments
have to do with enursis, doing imipramine for enursis, not that
they were taking something more than that.
So I would make the argument that we are not doing a good
job in treating proximally to the onset of the disease the conditions
that we ought to treat.
As you know, when the paper was published, Ms. Clinton asked the
field — we had many committees that participated, also myself —
about treating preschoolers. I would like to tell you that in my
clinic everybody has a structured interview, and we do not select
patients by race, social class, and we do not ask them to declare
a diagnosis. We consider the diagnostic responsibilities are clinical
issues upon us.
So we have a sizable number of preschoolers representing
about ten percent of our referral pool. These preschools have an
enormous amount of psychopathology. There is an average age, a defined
preschoolers, children six or younger. Okay? Average age, about
These children not only have single diagnosis, but frequently have
multiple diagnoses, including serious mood disorders, serious anxieties
or a combination of behavior disorders, ADHD, et cetera, et cetera.
So, for example, a small percentage of them have four diagnoses.
Think about an adult patient with metabolic syndrome, diabetes,
hypertension, and a wide range of difficulties. So this is a very
compromised child. Okay?
So they are coming to a clinic. We did not get them. They
are coming to us, asking us for help with very serious
What I wanted to point out here even though these children
have an average age of 5.2, okay, the onset of the symptoms were at
least a year and a half to two years before they reached our shores.
So even in the preschool setting, we have a big gap from the time of
the symptoms onset to the time that somebody is referred.
That gap, of course, is much larger. The average duration,
the distance from onset of symptoms for ADHD to onset of treatment is
somewhere in the order of magnitude of seven to nine years. If you
think about if that distance where to apply to the treatment of a
cavity, for example, what that will do to the affected person in the
sense of chronicity, the impact of a repeat of seven years, you have
many opportunities to ruin your life.
Okay. Children have long memories. A child that is a pain
in kindergarten, even if the child improves, will never be forgotten by
his peers for many years to come.
So we have the larger issue that because as prejudice is
concerned, the difficulties in conducting studies in children and so on
and so forth, that very few drugs do not have FDA approval, and as a
consequence we are in kind of a Never-Never Land regarding risk. We
have to make sure that you are aware that we still have to prescribe
with or without FDA approval. Okay?
The recent past legislation has mandated pharmaceutical
companies to conduct research in children and adolescents. The recent
experience with SSRIs certainly had produced a very chilling event in
the minds of pharmaceutical manufacturers. So the state of affairs of
not having approval creates the uncertainties that lead to not knowing
how to use, what to use, what is safe, what is not safe, et cetera, et
cetera. So it has greatly limited the possibilities of using
psychotropics safely and effectively in the management of children with
So I would like to switch to ADHD as a prototype. It is one of
the most common disorders that we have in child psychiatry. It's
one of the most common problems that pediatricians that deal with;
[it generates] emotional issues faced all over the world; it is
a highly heterogeneous illness, like all medical and psychiatric
conditions. We know that genes have a lot to do with this, and
I will tell you a little bit in my talk. We know quite a bit about
anatomy and neurochemistry.
So here we are, with a condition that is one of the most beleaguered
conditions that we have in psychiatry. It's among the most well
established neurobiologically speaking, and I hope I will be able
to make that point as a product of this discussion.
We know that environmental factors are a contributor to the
disease. I would like to mention that what I call environmental
factors are in themselves like family conflict, poverty, maternal and
paternal psychopathology. Those are not sociological factors of bad
mothers and bad schools and bad teachers. Those are conditions that
themselves are given by genes.
So a child that is living with a parent that has a serious mental
illness has two problems: she has the genes that the parent transmits,
plus the bad environment that the parent transmits. If CNS incidents,
of course, closed head injuries, accidents of other types damage
the same regions of the brain that genes damage, [they] will produce
a syndrome that is known as ADHD.
So think about ADHD as a final common pathway of multiple
interlocking process that could come from different origins. The most
common one is this one. It's one of the most genetic conditions in
psychology and in medicine as I'm going to tell you in a second.
You probably heard many times that the children are over-diagnosed,
over-medicated. This is an American disease. Data coming from
all over the world — we actually published a paper in the World
Psychiatry Journal — document [worldwide prevalence]. This
is just an example of what I'm showing.
But no matter what definition you use, five to ten percent of children
all over the world, (including Asia and China a few months ago,
the five to ten percent numbers are there, too). Very, very common
As you know, this is a chronic illness, and the children of today
are going to be the adults of tomorrow, and the adults of today
have been children yesterday. So we're talking about a condition
that is only temporary in pediatrics, but will be a condition in
adults as the child matures.
How do we know that? There have been several follow-up
studies. My follow-up studies into adulthood, my study of boys with
ADHD was just published in a very prestigious journal that is called
Psychological Medicine This Month. What I wanted to show you is
that there are many studies, very few into adulthood though, using
DSM-2 emphasize hyperactivity. This is my study, the previous
published study. By age of 15, we had 85 percent of persistence.
So if you average this, it is about 50 percent of the minimum.
In my recent analysis of how persistent it is, we
calculated that 80 percent of our original sample that was ascertained
in childhood, by the age of 30 continued to have some form or another
of ADHD into adulthood, 80 percent.
So we always imputed that, estimated that adult ADHD based
on these follow-up studies of persistence may be common. Okay? So we
now know from this paper that we published recently, and there is
another one by Dr. Kessler that has done the national co-morbidity
survey that is responsible to provide us with the statistics for all
mental illnesses in our society.
The data emerging today are about five percent, between three and
five percent of adults in our society have this condition. Okay.
Remember that we have many more adults than children and people
spent longer time being adults. Not only there is five percent,
but I would like to share with you some statistics on how morbid
it is. This is an adult.
I also wanted to mention to you this is strictly defined.
People that have lifelong problems, the average age of the sample is
about 40. The vast majority of those people have never been diagnosed
in childhood. The vast majority of these people, despite diagnosis,
have never been treated. Okay? So we have here a very peculiar
situation that these people received the diagnosis perhaps in their
communities, but they're not treated. It's estimated that 20
percent of adults are actually treated.
But what I wanted also to mention to you is that variations
of these syndromes are extraordinarily common. In our study people
that have less than required symptoms, a few less or they had a
different age of onset and it ended up being up to 16 percent in Dr.
Kessler's study. He had another five percent of adults that had a
lot of symptoms in adulthood, not so many symptoms in childhood, kind
of the reverse of what we see in the traditional definition of ADHD, a
disorder that starts in grade school and continues.
This is not a disorder, by the way, [such] that people have attacks.
So you have it chronically all the time. The frustrating component
of this condition is that it's a behavioral syndrome, and the
symptoms, like in depression actually — it's not very different
— overlap with symptoms that all of us have. All of us may be
distracted, inattentive, impulsive, but not to the degree that produces
the symptoms all the time, and not to the degree that produces morbidity,
dysfunction, disability, suffering. Okay.
So the distinctive point is the number of symptoms. You have to
have a lot. Okay? And you have to have symptoms that produce dysfunction.
And "dysfunction" is a relative term. Okay? It's
not absolute dysfunction that you cannot do any school work. The
child with ADHD may not be able to use his or her intellectual ability
to the fullest.
Just before I came yesterday we were calculating if you
look at my follow-up, if you look at the ADHD children that completed
college compared with those that don't have ADHD, the ADHD group
had to have 30 points higher of IQ compared with the average IQ of the
control that completed college was 110. The average IQ of the ADHDs
that completed college was 130.
Well, that means that the intellectual abilities of the person,
his or her endowment that would allow the person to succeed, are
substantially diminished by the conditions. So you are functioning
effectively at the lower level.
Remember there is a connection between what you accomplish
in school and where you end up in life. So these are not minor issues.
We also know that the ADHD individuals — that the level of education
is not predictive of level of functioning of occupations. So they
have under occupation relative to their education. So they get
two hits. One is that they have under education because they cannot
get as high as their intellectual abilities will allow them, and
those that get it, they have under occupational consequences.
So the gap from where you could have been, from where you are in
society is very large. Okay? And we recently estimated that the
cost of under employment of ADHD may be in the order of magnitude
of $70 to $100 billion a year just from under employment.
So the frustrating situation in the clinic with ADHD is that the
symptoms are not in front of us. So the patient is not dysmorphic.
The patient doesn't have any different colors. They're
not blue, yellow... The patient is not in acute pain. So it's
a very different environment in capturing this syndrome. The patient
may look like you and me. Okay? And the clinician then has to
elicit the symptoms outside the office. The symptoms occur, are
situation sensitive. They occur in situations that you are not
So, for example, a child can play Nintendo for many hours or watch
Saturday morning cartoons for many hours, but may not be able to
do homework for two minutes. That always has been interpreted as
If you look at the history, the first description medically
speaking of ADHD was done by Professor George Steele in 1905 in London,
in the Royal Academy of Sciences, I believe, and he described the
symptoms very well, and the conclusion is that it's a moral
disease. Why is it a moral disease? Because of the situation that the
child can do; it's not an absolute failure of attention, but
it's fluctuating and context sensitive.
That, by the way, is not different than other psychiatric
illnesses or medical conditions. The patient with chest pain does not
have it all the time. The patient with seizures does not seize in
front of the doctor to document that they have a seizure.
So the symptoms occur in situations that they're uninterested.
So a child will have symptoms in school in some classes, not in
all, depending on interest or capabilities or how fascinating the
teacher is in teaching. The adult may have difficulties in paper
work. Physicians, for example, with these conditions do well when
they are in one-to-one with their patients. They tend to have a
lot of difficulties when they are called to administer clinics or
to organize something, and then they have no idea what they are
The symptoms of impassivity and hyperactivity are very age
sensitive. They tend to decline early on in life, and that has been
the reason that this condition has been assumed to be a childhood
adolescent diagnosis. Not to worry; things will disappear.
We know very well that things do not disappear. The most covert symptoms,
those of inattention, those that we don't see, are persistent.
The other problem that we have is that the symptoms are
very variable. They vary in the frequency in which they occur, and
they vary in the degree that they impair the individual, and that also
creates a lot of confusion. There is an expectation that I don't
think applies to any other medical condition, that you have to be near
death to qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis.
We don't have that standard for hypertension or for strep throat,
by the way. So here the idea is if you have — as I said to you
before, a child who is very bright will not fail school, will do
okay in school. The distance of doing okay in school for a bright
student is the same distance as somebody that is not so bright that
fails. It is exactly the same distance.
So there is no expectation that we need to demand that a
child be failing school or the adult being incarcerated to consider a
diagnosis. So the issue of impairment is a matter of judgment and is
relative, not absolute.
As I said before, I treat a lot of adults, and many of them
are in the high professions. So you can say, well, if you made it to
medical school, law school, architectural school, how can you have
Well, many of these people are really brilliant and
they're able to pass their exams, but they're not able to
practice. They have a lot of problems in life. They have difficulties
in their marriages. They have difficulties with their children. There
are difficulties in managing their household chores, and so on and so
forth. So life is not a picnic for many of these people.
As I said before, the symptoms of hyperactivity tend to
decline around the age of 12, those of impulsivity. It's not that
they disappear. They go below radar. They are less prominent. So you
no longer see a child in my waiting room at the age of 15 that is
running on my furniture.
That does not mean that the child is out of the woods.
What they will tell me is that they have this horrendous inner sense of
restlessness. Many of these adults are always doing something.
There's a different flavor than being hyperactive. They cannot sit
still. Many of these adults, for example, do not know how to relax.
So these are the Blackberry people, people that are at the beach, have
five computers and a telephone. So they are workaholics.
Many people go to the office because they do not know what to do
with unstructured time. This is not a condition that is adult-
or marriage-friendly. It is not a condition in pediatrics that
is family-friendly. It is highly impactful.
I would like to go a little bit to the brain because
contrary to accusations by the Church of Scientology that this is all
kind of an invented disease, as you know, the Church of Scientology has
several class action suits against American Psychiatric Association,
the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, claiming that they are in
cahoots with pharmaceutical companies to invest the disease to sell
The literature from MRIs in pediatrics [is based on] small studies...
To my knowledge, we have now more than 30 studies. To my knowledge,
there is not a single MRI study that has been negative in ADHD.
The findings are different, but in areas of the brain that are clearly
associated with the disease, [one finds] asymmetry of the caudate
nucleus; differences in size and shape of the corpus callosum; smaller
right frontal area, and the frontal lobe is a key region for cognition,
as you know; smaller right basal ganglia; and the cerebellum is
increasing recognized as particularly vermis — the cerebellum is
important in cognition, attention and ADHD.
These studies were criticized because many of the children
had been medicated. So you can then argue that what you see in the
MRIs are the consequences of the treatment, not the consequences of the
This study that was published in JAMA in 2002 by our colleagues
at the National Institute of Mental Health, (Dr. Castellanos was
the lead author). It's a very large study. The previous study
had ten, 12 subjects, maybe 20. This has 152 children and adolescents,
boys and girls, and a sizable number of controls.
The study's objectives were to assess volumetric
changes over time and to address directly the issue of medication, and
therefore, they have medicated and unmedicated youngsters.
What this study found is that the cerebral and cerebella volumes were
significantly reduced in the order of magnitude of three percent
in children with ADHD. This volumetric abnormality, with the exception
of the called weight, persisted with age. This was not a neurodegenerative
condition that things went progressively worse over time. There
were no degenerative instances, and there was some evidence that
these volumetric changes were correlated with the severity of ADHD.
So the visual of this is this. So in girls we have data up
to 15 and boys up to 20. This is brain volume. This is age. So these
are the males, and these are the females. You see that in both genders
you have the same magnitude of smaller cerebral volumes. Okay?
The conclusion of this paper is that either genetic or early environmental
influences in brain development in ADHD are fixed, nonprogressive
and unrelated to stimulant treatment. It's a very important
finding for the field in reassuring that what we see is not just
the toxic effects of medication.
So if you look at some of the key regions of the brain in all of
us, not in people with ADHD, there are regions that we know are
involved in key cognitive processes. The anterior cingulate, the
dorsal anterior cingulate, and the cognitive division are associated
with executive control — the ability to inhibit thought and behavior,
the ability to direct attention to things that were not interested.
The dorsal (unintelligible) prefrontal cortex, right frontal lobe,
and these are, of course, highly interconnected areas of the brain.
We can use imaging. So what I'm going to show you is imaging
of this region. Okay? This is really very exciting data. We just
completed this study. So this is not yet published. I promise
you that it will be published, but I would like to share it with
you nonetheless. So this is the anterior cingulate gyrus here which
I am depicting. Okay?
You can measure with MRI volume, of course, but you can
also use the latest technology to measure cortical thickness. How
thick or thin is the cortex?
So in this paper that we were able to document, I believe,
for the first time, that in an adult with ADHD unmedicated, what
I'm showing here is the statistical comparison of the average
brains of adults with ADHD compared with adults without ADHD looking
specifically at cortical thickness.
So you see here this is the dorsal anterior cingulate, the
same area of the brain that I showed you before that we know is
involved in cognition. It's not a diffuse, encephalopathic
process, and we also have thinness here. This is significantly thinner
in the dorsal and the frontal cortex, also a key area of the brain
involved in the processes that can lead to the symptoms that we know as
These findings are remarkably congruent with what
neuropsychologists conceptualize as ADHD from a neuropsychological
perspective. In a very interesting and special issue in Biological
Psychiatry on ADHD, on the neuroscience of ADHD, there is a group
of extraordinary review articles on the genetics neuroimaging. Dr.
Sonuga-Barke did the review in the neuropsychology of ADHD, and he
argues that the process of ADH and the circuits of attention was called
directed attention, essentially paying attention to things that
we're not interested.
So the person with ADHD cannot put his or her brain in four wheel
drive when confronted with the task that the person is not interested
in, and equally important is their disturbances in the reward circuit.
The person with ADHD will not be able to not do something that may
And as you know, if you go for things that are rewarding
and pleasurable without some kind of scrutiny, you are going to engage
in a wide range of difficulties in our society. The issue of
difficulties with delay aversion, so many people with ADHD will very
rapidly approach something, drugs, alcohol, sex, in a manner that may
lead them to a wide range of difficulties.
Going back a little bit to the dorsal-anterior cingulate,
the cingulate gyrus, this area here in red, is tightly organized into a
cognitive and an emotional division. This is the general here. The
blue is the emotional division. Well, what is remarkable is these are
different studies that can activate this area of the anterior cingulate
using functional MRI and a very simple cognitive load.
You can consistently activate this area of the brain using imaging
techniques, particularly functional MRI.
In a study that we did, Dr.Bush, this is a neuroscientist in in
our group, who is called George Bush. Now, what a name, no? But
it's not the one in the White House.
This is a coronal view of the brain, and in normal controls if
the person is
asked to do a simple cognitive task, you will activate the anterior
If you put adults with ADHD in the scanner, the same region is blank,
does not activate. Instead they activate the insula. So the adult
with ADHD can do this task, but it's recruiting areas of the brain
that are not particularly designed to do the task. Therefore, they
are going to do the task more slowly and less efficiently.
We have emerging data that you can correct that with treatment.
So when you prescribe treatments like stimulants, methylphenidate,
that normalizes. Distal imaging data that I just showed you has
to be seen as interesting, linking the disease or the condition,
the syndrome, with the brain, but not useful for diagnostic purposes
because we are not yet like we are in chest X-rays, that it's
always the same. These are group data. There's very large
Another very important component of ADHD is that ADHD is a
genetic illness. How do we know it's a genetic illness? The first
signal comes from family studies. Familiality, of course, is not
evidence for genetics, but if there is no familiality, there is very
little impetus to pursue a genetic hypothesis.
Twin studies are very important in pursuing a genetic hypothesis
because twins come in two varieties, monozygotic and dizygotic,
and in genetic illnesses we expect that the concordance will be
higher in dizygotic twins.
Also, twin studies are important because they allow us to compute
coefficients of variability that tells us how much of the variance
of the disease can be accounted for by genes.
Adoption studies, if you find a genetic illness, you expect
biological relatives to be more affected than adopting relative.
And finally, you look for genes. So as a final product,
this is a polygenic disease. So looking for genes is not a minor
undertaking, as you know.
This condition has been documented for three decades to be
highly familiar. There is a five to seven-fold increased risk in
relatives of children with ADHD, irrespective of what criteria we use.
This is my study. I did probably the most on documenting familiality.
This is DSM-III. We documented with DSM-IIIR. We documented with
DSM-IV. That is very familiar. We documented in Caucasian samples, in
African American samples, in boys and in girls. Clearly, highly
But even in the '70s, before my time, Dr. Kant with Morrison and
Stewart documented the same. So if you started with the child,
it is much more prevalent in relatives, first degree relatives of
children with ADHD than in relatives of controls.
Coefficients of variability, briefly, they are based on twin studies.
There's first a lot of twin studies. These twin studies are
remarkably heterogeneous. They use questionnaires, teacher report,
parent report. It does not matter. I'll show you the results
in a second.
The coefficients of variability range from zero percent of the
volumes accounted for by genes to one, 100 percent of the variance
accounted for by genes. So look how consistent these studies are.
The average coefficient of variability of ADHD is close to 80 percent.
Comparison of high to highly inheritable trait, about 90 percent.
Schizophrenia, bipolar illness, about 80 percent. In the genome
issue of Science, in the part that was written on psychiatry,
they had three conditions likely to be genetic: schizophrenia,
bipolar, and of course, ADHD was the third one.
Panic disorder and major depression are genetic illness,
but not as genetic as bipolar and schizophrenia; about 50 percent
genetics. Breast cancer is about 30 percent or so.
So this is a very genetic condition, 80 percent chances to
And the first genes that we have looked at in ADHD were candidate
genes that had to do with polymorphism on the dopaminergic system,
a polymorphism on the dopamine transporter gene, and a polymorphism
in the dopamine receptor default genes.
The reason that we focused first on dopamine genes is
because the drugs that are effective in ADHD are highly dopaminergic
like the stimulants.
So ADHD is conceptualized as a hypodopaminergic disease.
So you can get to be hypodopaminergic by not having an adequate
production. This is presynaptic/post synaptic. You can have
hypodopaminergic situation if the presynoptic vesicles do not release
dopamine. You can have a hypodopaminergic state if the transporters
take too much dopamine back to the dopamine presynaptic neuron or if
you have receptors that couple with dopamine, but do not transmit the
So what I'm going to show you in a second are the data. Consistent
data are emerging, and perhaps as consistent or more consistent
as other major psychiatric illnesses linking polymorphism in the
dopamine transporter gene. The polymorphism that has been identified
in ADHD over expresses dopamine transporter in animal studies.
So if you have too many dopamine transporters, there's a lot
of dopamine going back to the presynaptic neuron.
The genes that have been associated with ADHD are some
receptor genes, dopamine receptor IV and V that are localized in the
prefrontal cortex and are this polymorphism produced, some kind of a
I would like to remind you that the stimulus in general, and methylphenidate,
in particular, block the dopamine transporter. So if you block
the dopamine transporter, you can compensate for deficiencies over
expressed transporter or defective genes.
So the odds ratios on several genes, I don't want to bother
you, but this includes the dopamine transporter gene. There is
a gene that is called SNAP25 that is involved in the encapsulation
of dopamine. So if this gene produces a difficulty in releasing
dopamine, you will have a hypodopaminergic ZDBH. This is the .1
or .10 polymorphism in dopamine transporter gene. There are receptor
genes D4 and D5. One particular one, these are the alterations
today at close to two with this gene. This polymorphism here is
called a seven repeat allele, and has been identified in the personality
trait that is called sensation seeker.
So these are vulnerability genes, not disease genes. Having those
genes increases the odds of having the disease. So if you're
going back to the DRD4, again, localized dopamine receptor genes,
heavily localized in the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate,
if these genes produce faulty receptors, you may have inadequate
risk of dopamine, inadequate transporter, but signal is not, the
transmitter is not propagated.
If the transporter is overactive, as I said, too much dopamine
goes out. Not enough dopamine remains at the synaptic cleft to
activate the receptors, and if you prescribe treatment for that,
Briefly, another known risk factor that we have identified that
has been confirmed by many other groups is maternal smoking during
pregnancy. This is a significant risk factor for ADHD even after
controlling for genetics, social class and IQ in both parents.
We still have a significant independent effect of maternal smoking
in contrast to genes. Maternal smoking is a preventable problem.
ADHD is heavily co-morbid with a wide range of other psychiatric
disorders. That's the reason that I selected this one from
ADHD. You see a wide range of problems, oppositional defiance disorder,
enuresis. Measure a patient's anxiety disorders, conduct disorders,
and mood disorders, bipolar disorders. Okay. It's a very serious,
morbid illness that can profoundly impact the life of the children.
One of the co-morbidities that emerges in adolescents and adult years
is addiction, and it's a major concern. It was the most feared
complications of ADHD. In the untreated state, we estimate that
about half of the people with ADHD will have significant problems
with alcohol abuse or dependence or drug abuse or dependence, twice
as much as the population.
Another issue that has been controversial in the treatment
of ADHD is that there is a similarity of mechanism of action between
cocaine and methylphenidate. Both block the dopamine transporter and
improve the signal. Okay? They both act here in a transporter.
The work done by Dr. Nora Volkow, now the director of NIDA, attempted
to clarify that the mechanism of action is not the entire story.
If you inject IV, this is work done with SPECT. If you inject IV
cocaine, you have a very rapid uptake into the brain and a very
rapid decoupling. It is this very rapid ascension to the brain
that you can attain with IV cocaine, similarly with IV methylphenidate.
This is what produces the high. Okay?
Remember that we administer medications orally. If you give oral
methylphenidate, there is a slow uptake into the brain and no euphorism
effects. So that's the reason that many of the children or
individuals that use inappropriately our medicines, insufflate them,
snort them, because that's the way that you get the high. The
addict is not looking for oral administration. The new generation
of slow acting compounds, are in some ways protective because you
cannot extract easily the methylphenidate. You can crush the pill
and snort it, but you cannot take the methylphenidate out... and
you cannot snort the pebbles of those that have microbead technology.
We published perhaps the first evidence against the argument that
treating children with drugs like stimulants will enhance the risk
for drug abuse. In the paper that we published, we first presented
it in the NIH consensus conference and then in Pediatrics
in 1999, we were able to show that children who were medicated in
childhood and when we looked at substance abuse, abuse or dependence
on alcohol or drugs in adolescents, had an indistinguishable risk,
whereas those that were unmedicated had a threefold increased risk.
Since then, a colleague of mine, Dr. Williams, published a meta-analysis
that incorporated four other studies showing the same, that the
treatment of a child with ADHD protects the child against emergence
of abuse or dependency in those areas.
ADHD is associated with car accidents and car accidents are a leading
cause of mortality in the young. So this is not only a problem
of school. People with ADHD frequently are unemployed or under
employed when there are 15 hour statistics in the community and
a thousand subjects, 500 with ADHD, 500 without. Fifty percent
were unemployed. Okay? Adults with ADHD frequently have multiple
jobs and about 50 percent had to leave a job directly as a consequence
And as I said before, the estimated cost to society of all
of these job related problems is about 70 to $100 billion.
ADHD is a highly impairing condition in terms of parental stress,
family conflict, accidents and injuries, substance abuse, legal
difficulties, problems with relationships, marital difficulties,
school failure and heavy dose of psychiatric co-morbidity, including
So if you look at the treatments that we have, I would like
to briefly say to you that medications are considered as the
fundamental part of the treatment. This study that was funded by the
National Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Education is
the largest effort to show that behavioral treatment is more effective
or equally effective as medication.
This study randomized about 600 children in five sites in
the country to medication, stimulants in good doses across the day. A
behavioral treatment, very comprehensive, very expensive, both of them,
medication and behavior management and treatment as usual.
What this study found is that medication was as effective
as medication plus a very sophisticated treatment, and I would like to
point out that this is considered the ideal treatment, the massive
behavioral treatment and very aggressive medication, up to 60 percent,
not more, not 100 percent. So herein we have a very common illness
leaving 40 percent of our subjects not responding to our best
Behavioral treatment was less effective, was less effective
as management in the community most with medication. Most of the data
on treatment that we have are on children six to 12 years old, but data
from preschoolers, adolescents and adults document that the treatments
work across the life cycle.
And from the treatments that we have..., stimulants in particular,
treat these, the core symptoms, but there was a variety of other
situations like oppositionalism, like aggressivity, social interactions,
academic deficiency, and academic accuracy, areas that if not attended
to can produce serious morbidity in the child.
And the medicines that we have have what's called moderate to large
effect sizes. So they're not little treatments. So we know,
for example, that approved medications like the stimulants, long
acting and short acting, have very large effect sizes, close to
one. Although the non-stimulants have moderate effect sizes, they're
potent treatments to treat people with ADHD.
So we are dealing with a very serious neurobehavioral disorder
largely beleaguered... in our society, [with a] complex etiology,
neurobiological basis, strong genetic components, affects millions
of people all over the world, boys and girls, men and women, highly
persistent, at least 50 percent, and has a very large impact in
multiple areas of function.
Thank you very much.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you very much, Dr. Biederman,
for a very, very clear and orderly and stimulating discussion.
We'll turn now to questions from the Council. I'd
like to just put forward a question I do not wish you'll answer
right now because you may want to think about it more. But what are
some of the ethical issues that derive from these data which you
present to us and what recommendations could a body like this make to
deal with some of those issues?
But I would hold those for the time being and turn to the
members of the Council. I saw Dr. Dresser's hand first, and Dan.
DR. DRESSER: Thank you.
That was a really good overview, and we've heard a lot
about issues with overtreatment with drugs in this population, and I
think you've emphasized the problems with under treatment. Do you
see any problems with overtreatment yourself?
And second, given limited resources, what approach do you
think would be best to minimize overtreatment and minimize under
DR. BIEDERMAN: I don't think that there is evidence
for overtreatment. It's only in the hands and minds and eyes and
ears of the people that want to see that. The evidence is in the
The majority of children with ADHD are not treated. Okay? So the statistics
that are frequently used is if you see an increase in treatment,
you can conclude there is overtreatment. But the rate of treatment
does not catch up with the rate of the disease. So I would say
that's under treatment.
Most parents are on the fence, but most of my struggles every day
when I go to the office is to encourage the families to tolerate
adverse effects. No, I don't have anybody that is looking forward
for the next prescription.
The data that we have parenthetically on continuation of
treatment is very dismal. It's worse than any other therapeutic
entity. Over a bit of a year 80 percent of patients prescribed
medicine no longer will take it. People with ADHD do not follow
through. So they initiate treatment. Maybe every often the child has
a mother or father with ADHD who will initiate treatment and will get
tired. It's too inconvenient, et cetera, et cetera.
So the issue of therapeutics, the burden is in the other
direction, that we are not treating a condition that is treatable. So
the tragedy here is that this is a very morbid condition that will
produce a wide range of impairments, functional life as we know from
the adult data. What you see in the adults, this is the untreated
I do not have time to tell you that the rate, everything is
disturbed, the rate of divorce and separation, the number of automobile
accidents, the use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs, bad health habits.
There's not a single area from loving to friendship to working to
studying that they're not worse. Okay? Economically worse off.
So this gives you a flavor of what the children of today
will reach tomorrow and the cost to society. So I would argue that we
have a very difficult task ahead of us with who is going to prescribe.
There is under treatment, under monitoring, under prescribing, and I
see that as an ethical problem in my mind where I sit, okay, because I
know from our follow-up studies what awaits my patients tomorrow, and
it's not going to be a kind, soft landing at the end of the road.
DR. DRESSER: I was just wondering. Do you have any
recommendations for addressing the situation? I mean obviously —
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yeah.
DR. DRESSER: — it's problematic if people are
refusing to continue treatment. How do you feel about that?
DR. BIEDERMAN: I don't. Unfortunately, you
have a difficult task. The problem is extraordinarily complicated.
The bad media lets parents be on the offense for years. So parents
are heavily tortured when they come to the doctor's after hearing
the same music year after year from the teachers. The child is
clearly at risk. He's beginning to do serious academic work
and obviously has massive holes in his or her knowledge, and at
that point, seven, eight years later when the child has been compromised,
self-esteem is in the basement, the child is not doing well, the
parents come to the doctor's office, and at that point we start
the process of treatment that may not be necessarily simple. The
child may not respond to Drug A. It may take months or at that
point remember we have a child in school. This is a year that's
in progress, whatever we do. So the child may miss another year
of education after we find our way around it. The media approach
to this problem is consistently negative.
So I do not know what to do. There is a lot of charlatanism in
this profession. In a free society, anybody, everybody is entitled
to say whatever they want, but there is no way to distinguish opinions,
prejudices from facts. So I try to present at least what we know,
and I tortured you with the charts for a reason because if I were
just to extemporaneously tell you all of these things, it's
not an opinion. I mean, it's as good as somebody that just
had that thought yesterday and will tell you that this is what they
believe, and if there is enough pathos in the voice, you will believe
There is another complication that what I do is very boring
in the sense of there's not a track to capture the attention of the
talk shows and things like that. When people write anything in a book
that could be totally unsubstantiated, the likelihood of being an Oprah
on a "Today Show" is very high, and this is what the public
will listen. They will not know that the brain is affected. My
genetic word is a little too technical. What does it really mean, et
cetera, et cetera?
So those prejudices are the ones that are largely propagated.
So I do not know how to combat them. I wish I had the solution,
how to combat prejudices, misinformation, dissemination of the wrong
information. I have no idea.
The Web offers incredible possibilities only if you know
where to look. So you can be bombarded with nonsense and how will you
know what is nonsense from facts?
In the NIH conference, I don't remember the name of the
person that sat at the conference. He said to all of us,
"Remember that anecdotes are not the plural of datum." Okay?
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Carson.
DR. CARSON: Yes, I have a number of questions about your
In the situations where you say the brain volumes were
decreased in children who were affected with this disease, were those
studies controlled for body weight and body size?
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yes.
DR. CARSON: Is it possible that early environmental
factors can affect the development of the brain? In other words, is
there something else going on that may cause certain areas of the brain
to be smaller rather than that being the primary problem?
And in children of parents with ADHD, you indicated that
they have a significant, fivefold increase incidence of developing the
problem themselves. Has anyone looked at a situation in which those
children were raised in an environment that was "normal"?
Did they still have that high incidence?
And — well, I'll let you answer those ones first.
DR. BIEDERMAN: So you're counting on my working
The data on the brain study controlled for social class.
So, yes, I think that you need to make the argument. You need to take
a sample of children that came from very unprivileged environment and
look at their brains. Usually not the cognitive area are selectively
affected. Many of the children, they work the closest, and they can
tell you in extreme cases where people that were traumatized different
areas of the brain light up in those children. Usually they had
composed, say, with high levels of cortisone.
What I just showed you, in our work these were adults that
were not traumatized. These are adults that had high IQ, very well
matched with controls. All of these studies are well controlled.
Our adults in the selective findings on the cortex of
attention, these adults did not have any particular history of having
been traumatized from coming from unprivileged backgrounds, and so on
and so forth.
Your second question has to do with — what was the second
DR. CARSON: In children who grow up in normal environments
who have had children who are parents.
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yes. I think that the rate of ADHD is not
due to social class. We included in our studies and other class
status. Well, all social class set, and I'm not sure what you call
normal because —
DR. CARSON: That's why I said, "Quote,
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yes. We corrected by social class
Redlich social class (SES) stratification. The rate of ADHD was
high in all
social class strata. It was not driven by socioeconomic differences
DR. CARSON: Okay, and then lastly,
is the incidence of ADHD increasing or was it simply that two or
three decades ago people didn't recognize it?
DR. BIEDERMAN: Correct. I think that this is one of the
most commonly asked questions. The answer in my mind is no. This is a
similar issue. You may face or not with the autism-PDD dilemma. I
think that the main reason that children were not diagnosed is because
if the diagnosis leads to a particular treatment that you do not want
to deploy, the best way to avoid the treatment is to avoid the
diagnosis. So you don't have anything. Boys are boys. This is
what has happened a lot in Europe.
Today with the availability of non-stimulant treatments and so
on and so forth, people are more willing to make the diagnosis.
Also, diagnosis is sensitive to how you define it. So if you use
a broad umbrella, you have more people. If you demand very strict
criteria, you have small numbers.
Let me give you an example. If you define alcoholism only
by those people that need to go to a detox center, you have very
different numbers than if you define it just by misusing or having
total dependence on alcohol. So our definition leads to the prevalence
of the condition, but there is no epidemic of ADHD. We're just
more clinicians willing to make the diagnosis, more awareness that this
is a brain disorder, not just bad manners, more aware that the
treatments that we have despite controversy are safe and effective.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Meilaender.
PROF. MEILAENDER: Yes, I feel as if I ought to apologize at
the start because I think I'm about to ask the kind of question
that drives you crazy. So —
DR. BIEDERMAN: As long as torture is not involved,
PROF. MEILAENDER: No, no, no. Well, there may be some
mental torture, but —
PROF. MEILAENDER: Somebody has to speak on behalf of all
those people who were never interested in school, and I certainly
wasn't. I don't know how to frame the question exactly, but I
mean, I don't doubt that there are some people who are genuinely
ill. Okay? But what I'm struck by is the fact that, on the one
hand, the narrowing imaging techniques are not useful for diagnosis,
you said, at least not now and, therefore, other methods sort of in the
clinical interaction you have to make judgments about diagnosis, and
then you say in describing those interactions that, you know, you have
to sort of elicit the symptoms. Symptoms occur in circumstances where
they're not interested, and it turns out that some of these studies
depend on teachers' reports and things like that.
And you know, there may be a lot of misinformation and
charlatans out there, and I may be one of them. I don't know, but
there's an awful lot that goes on in school that you shouldn't
be interested in. You know, I'd tell my children they had to more
or less behave, but I wouldn't for a moment pretend they should be
interested in it. It's not interesting.
And I'd worry if, even thinking back to my own
teachers, if I were to be judged primarily on their reports. So you
know, I think I understand your appeal to expertise, and I understand
your worry about misinformation and so forth, and I'm not trying to
exacerbate those problems for you, but it seems to me that has to be
If this is the way diagnosis takes place and
inattentiveness when confronted with things that are inherently boring
is part of the diagnosis, I mean, then we do have to worry a little
bit. Somehow you have to address that, it seems to me.
Now, I may just be off base, and that's a simple minded
question, but could you speak to it?
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yes, sure. I certainly can. I think that
you're right that you are kind of representing the kind of
misconceptions and prejudices of our —
DR. BIEDERMAN: I will give you that. I think that you
need to distinguish. I have no doubts that there are boring things in
school. I have no doubts that there are boring schools in our everyday
So if you are a physician and when you practice you cannot
attend to the latest regulations of Medicaid Part D or you cannot go to
the very interesting meeting about how HIPAA should be discussed with
your patients and you sleep and daydream and you have no idea what are
you doing, you can be a very gifted physician when you examine your
patient and have made a diagnosis, but you have a lot of troubles in
real life deployment.
So what I'm talking about is not the teachers expecting
the children to be lobotomized and quiet in the classroom. Remember
one more time that there is a seven-year gap that occurs and the
demands for diagnosis are not just a little bit of not liking the math
teachers well. Those are children that have a part of the symptoms.
The symptoms are very well operationalized, and I will not banalize.
You have to have a lot of symptoms. That distinguishes you
or the affected person from the nonaffected person. The symptoms have
to be associated with impairment. They have to be associated with
disability. So it's not just the presence of the symptoms that
define the diagnosis, but the associated impairment. The child is not
able to make academic progress.
And I would like to remind you one more time that academic
progress is a fundamental passport for a good life. Okay? Under any
circumstance. So the data that the child that has the ability to
complete school and go to college, the child with ADHD may not be able
to do just that. They will get four scores on their standardized
test. They may have four scores in their grades. The doors rapidly
close on you, okay, and that's it.
So I think that the idea that this is just a little problem
that you don't like a particular class and not everything is
interesting at school, I'm not talking about that.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Foster.
DR. FOSTER: I just want to make a comment. In
non-psychiatric medicine, we have many powerful drugs, and what's
striking about the data that you showed is the great percentage changes
between treatment and nontreatment, whereas in these very powerful
drugs that we use, the conclusions if you look at hundreds of thousands
of patients, for example, we have a very good study that says that
estrogen protects against heart disease and then another that says,
well, it doesn't, or we look at cancer or chemotherapy drugs and so
forth. We're talking about usually a few percentage of
differences. You know, you'll live two months longer if you use
this new, powerful drug.
So what I'm having a little bit of trouble with — I very much
appreciate your showing the data, much of which I did not know —
was the very giant changes in drugs that nonpsychiatric medicine
would not necessarily consider to be in the same order of power
as the drugs that you're going to use to treat hypertension
with, and yet with terrific drugs in terms of hypertension, the
differences — we still get people to take them and so forth —
are small, and so it's one of the most — I read a lot, a lot
in Science and so forth and have edited journals — but I
think the thing that was most astonishing, that there was not a
single negative view about, you know, the treatment and these things
were so large, and that seems to me to be very unusual for just
science itself, and scientific medicine, and I just wondered. I
don't doubt the data. I don't mean that what you are saying
is not true, but one has to have sort of a — I have a little bit
of suspicion when everything that I deal with is so small changes
that these are universal and nobody except the press, you know,
seems to have a negative view about it.
That's the only comment I want to make. I don't
know that you can answer that, and I don't know of any —
DR. BIEDERMAN: Well, I think that the meta-analytic
data of enormous amount of studies that have been done and double
blind conditions are extraordinary... just as you said, that this
is a condition that responds very well to treatment. Those are
The effect size is... what is analyzed there. The critical mind
just hit another one. Again, the issue is how much stimulant and
non-stimulant is produced. But even the non-stimulants that have
an effect size of close to .7, those are very good effect sizes
for general medical standard. Those are based on double blind randomized
studies. Some are very large. So we have probably now somewhere
in the order of magnitude of 15,000 people if you put the meta analytic
efforts all together.
So it's very robust evidence supporting the effectiveness of
these treatments. I'm not saying that these are ideal treatments.
They have side effects and so on and so forth, but so do any other
medical interventions that I know of.
And so the expectation that taking children with
psychotropics should be safer than crossing the street may be high
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Hurlbut.
PROF. HURLBUT: Yesterday one of our speakers talked about
the fast pace of input that children experience, telephone, rapid
sequence events, and video games. This isn't my real question, but
do you think that has any impact on this disease?
DR. BIEDERMAN: No. No, I don't.
PROF. HURLBUT: Okay. What I really want to ask you is about
the placebo effect. Is that what you said at the beginning of your
talk? I think it was related to —
DR. BIEDERMAN: In depression. ADHD has low placebo
effect. The depression studies did not separate from placebo because
it was a gigantic placebo effect.
PROF. HURLBUT: Yeah, but not in ADHD.
DR. BIEDERMAN: Not in ADHD effects. The placebo effects
are in the order of magnitude of 30 percent. In the depression study
they were more than 60 percent.
PROF. HURLBUT: Okay. Since the placebo effect is real in
any case, I just wanted to know have there been any studies on the
genetics of the placebo effect itself.
DR. BIEDERMAN: No, but we are actually — most of the
neuroimaging, fascinating neuroimaging studies on Parkinson's
disease and in pain with the placebo, it's really telling that
it's a real effect, that the same changes in the Science
paper and Parkinson's disease, the same changes were documented on
people that improved on placebo as they improved on the dopaminergic,
We collect DNA in all our studies. So we are poised. The
effort, of course, is to identify genes that moderate efficacy, but we
can equally examine genes that enhance the likelihood of response to
PROF. HURLBUT: But it isn't been done?
DR. BIEDERMAN: It has not been done.
PROF. HURLBUT: Is it enduring as an effect?
DR. BIEDERMAN: The placebo? No.
PROF. HURLBUT: No. It's fast.
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yeah. Remember the studies that we
conduct, we can now conduct studies for five years.
PROF. HURLBUT: Yeah.
DR. BIEDERMAN: So the studies are usually a few weeks
long. For example, in the study that we did that carried the treatment
for six months blindly, there was a very precipitous decline in the
placebo patients that were months ensuing the acute trial.
PROF. HURLBUT: Finally I wanted to ask you. You said school
is the passport for a good life, and my immediate response was as
successful life within a social context.
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yes.
PROF. HURLBUT: But not necessarily a good life.
DR. BIEDERMAN: Pardon my use of an incorrect
or confusing word. I'm not making a moral judgment. I'm
not in any capacity trying to define what good life is.
PROF. HURLBUT: Right.
DR. BIEDERMAN: Okay? I only meant that it is a direct
relationship between the job that you can get and your education. This
is all what I meant, not that if you are making millions that
you're happier than if you are not making millions. That's not
what I'm talking about.
PROF. HURLBUT: Well, I didn't mean to put you under
any criticism on that. I just wanted to play on that to ask you.
It seems to me that in some context we're not emphasizing the
right core values in our civilization. We had speakers yesterday
that said this essentially, that we're putting children under
a lot of pressure. Performance is so much talk in our society about
the economic value of various things, and I think, I mean, I don't
know. You hear different people say different things about this,
but it does seem true to me that there is a decreased emphasis on
what people used to call character qualities or spiritual qualities
or fundamental values in children.
And when you look at what children want by self-report, it
isn't necessarily noble or virtuous. It usually has to do with
social standing, and I wonder what effect you think that might be
having. I mean, after all, finally what the brain relates to the mind
and the mind relates to images and values and goals in life, ideals,
aspirations, can you say a little something about that?
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yes, absolutely. I never intended to say
that. I was not talking about economical impact of what will be your
paycheck at the end of the day. Let me give you an example.
Let's say that somebody has a true passion to take care
of animals, to be a veterinarian. Okay? Veterinarians are not making
— I'm just using this as an example — so that's what you
would like to pursue. You'd like to become a nurse or a teacher.
Okay? That also are not millionaires at the end of the day.
In order for you to become a teacher, you have to pursue a
path of some academic competence. If you cannot graduate from high
school, you're never going to pursue a teaching career, a nursing
career, a veterinarian career. I'm not talking about being a
master of the universe in the Bonfire of the Vanities lingo.
I'm actually very saddened when I routinely ask children that come
to care, "So what would you like to do or what would you like to
So the model answer is to be a millionaire. So I say,
"If being a millionaire if a profession, like in a bagel store,
you take a number. In college you take Millionaire 101 and Millionaire
DR. BIEDERMAN: So it's really amazing, but I agree
with you that I'm a physician and not a moralist, and I don't
pretend to have solutions for society's ills. So the kind of
desires, the examples of millionaires in our sports arena and now with
the Super Bowl this weekend, that somebody that knows how to throw a
ball is discussing 50 or $100 million. That's not available to
most human beings, but besides that, I think what I alluded to is when
you have a dream that you'd like to pursue, okay, there are very
little things in our society that you could do from being a social
activist to being a religious leader that does not require some
If you have the vocation to be a religious leader and you
cannot learn anything in school or you are thrown out of school or you
became a drug addict, at some point in your life those dreams are
So I'm not talking about or I'm not measuring
success by the amount of money that you bring at the end of the day;
that if you don't make seven figure salaries, then you're a
But none of your dreams, even if you have other vocations,
may be accomplishable if you in your past, you have serious
complications as the one that these conditions can bring in the
PROF. HURLBUT: You know, this is a two-way arrow though.
That's my point.
DR. BIEDERMAN: A two-way?
PROF. HURLBUT: I mean, you know, you see children, and
it's like with Parkinson's disease and attention tremor. The
closer you get to the goal, the more your hand shakes, you know?
When a child is put under pressure, if their whole
construction of what makes a meaningful life relates to doing well on a
test, that test is going to put them under anxiety in a way it
wouldn't if it was just a stepping stone to, you know, one of many
things in life.
My point is: is the reality of ADHD or other psychiatric
disorders in childhood exasperated by the value system that children
are growing up in?
DR. BIEDERMAN: I really don't think so. I'd like
to distinguish what you do. The test is a final product of your
knowledge. So if you're not doing well in the test, it does not
matter. Of course, if you have a test you're going to be anxious,
you should be anxious.
The tests measure what you know. Okay? So incremental
learning in mathematics, if you did not learn Chapter 3, you will not
be able to understand Chapter 4 or 7 or 8 or whatever comes after. So
I think that the issue that you need to distinguish and what I'm
trying to say is that a people that struggle, it's not that
they're anxious about the next test. It's that they're not
acquiring knowledge. They have holes in their information systems that
you can drive a truck through. So they really are ignorant.
They grab it from high school. They may not have the information
that they need to do anything. So I think that they are not talking
about somebody who is aspiring to get A's in every class. Okay?
But you still need to be competent in whatever your education is
to be able to move to the next step and have some basic knowledge
to be able to confront the multiple demands if you're illiterate
or you have no ability to do the most basic calculations. You cannot
work as a cashier in a local supermarket here.
And so those are things that could be profoundly
interfered, not just core values. I'm not talking about those
issues, and I am fully supportive of the fact that we need to do a much
better job in promulgating dose than just the media will magnify the
amount of income that an actor or singer makes and this is glorified to
a sports figure. Those are the role models of our young, not somebody
that is helping the world in Africa and dealing with poverty to the
right and to the left.
DR. SCHAUB: Could I have just a very quick follow-up to
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Okay.
DR. SCHAUB: Just one sentence.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: All right.
DR. SCHAUB: Would ADHD have had an effect on life
performance two centuries ago?
DR. BIEDERMAN: Yeah, absolutely. Some people talk about
the hunters-gatherers, the idea that the hunters-gatherers'
inattention and distractibility would be good for them. I think
it's a true mistake to think that in the primitive society of
hunters-gatherers, the person with ADHD would be carried by the group,
but would not be an asset to the group. Okay?
This is not a condition that is associated with decreased fertility.
So the genes for this disease are more extensively promulgated,
if you want, because people with ADHD tend to be more disinhibited
in that way than schizophrenics, for example, that will have fertility
issues and will not date, but the people with ADHD have no problems
dating and impregnating or being impregnated.
So I don't think that it has ever been adaptive. Why
some conditions that are not adaptive are maintained in the genetic
pool, we have a steady rate of schizophrenia from Biblical times.
It's not an adaptive trait, or autism and so on, or mental
retardation, et cetera, et cetera.
So I don't think that at any point in evolution even
before the Nintendo and before our high tech society, being inattentive
is a disability. I always try to use as an example when I was a few
years ago in a photograph safari in Africa. I had an opportunity to
follow a cheetah hunting. The cheetah is looking at the pray moving an
inch an hour. The inattentive cheetah does not eat. Okay?
DR. BIEDERMAN: I will tell you that.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: I have requests from three speakers,
and a response. I'd like to ask
Dr. Biederman if you'd be good enough to hold off your response
to the three and summarize it and caution you that there is less
than ten minutes left, and I would like to stay to the time requirement
if at all possible.
Our first request is from Dr. McHugh.
DR. MCHUGH: Dr. Biederman, this was an impressive
presentation, and I'm sure there's gold in here.
Let me though begin by saying that the suspicions that
you're receiving from this group by other groups come not in
relationship simply to your data, but through the history of
Americans' relationships to psychiatry over the last 50 or so years
when the characteristic of psychiatry has been to pathologize people
and to increase the numbers out of proportion to the number of ill
people that there are out there.
It began with the Manhattan study, and I have to go over
these things with you, but the Manhattan study and several others right
up till now so that these numbers begin to make anyone who has any
skepticism begin to wonder about what is being described.
The phenotype that you're describing here and
persuading us to use this powerful general stimulant that affects
everybody if they take it is as you say, something that you'd call
a final common pathway from a number of different things.
There's another way of describing a final common
pathway of this sort, and that's called a waste basket, and
yesterday we heard from the Eides that the patients that are sent to
them from all over the country for assessment with diagnoses like ADHD
or artistic spectrum disorder, that with those diagnoses they don't
know what they're going to see, and they see all kinds of different
children with very different disorders more specifically related to
aspects of their social situation, aspects of their neuropsychological
dysfunctions of particular sorts, each one of which can be
differentiated from one another, all of which though are affected by
And when you show us the brain material that you have, it
also is very general. It is not at all — you can tie it together, but
it's scattered and not diagnostic.
So I think you're in a tough spot really more than
anything else, that I think this term ADHD, along with several other
terms that have become current in psychiatry, in particular in child
psychiatry, are just that. They need to be broken down much more
specifically and have to be differentiated in relationship to more
specific treatments depending upon the specific pathology there.
What would you say to that? That really we are still
groping. What I believe — I spoke about it yesterday — is a very
large amount of science in psychiatry is being done in relationship to
checklist assessments; that they do not rest like medical diagnoses and
developments do on full psychiatric assessments, external informants,
developmental histories, psychological testings, all combined together
to determine what the case really is both before and after.
So with a generic diagnosis and a generic treatment, a
treatment that you admit has problems of side effects to it, we're
still skeptical. That's all. We certainly want to do the best we
can by children, but at the same time, we don't want to presume
that everybody who is skeptical about it has some kind of other ax to
grind other than the experience with psychiatry over the last 50 years.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Rowley.
DR. ROWLEY: Well, my question is a follow-on
to reports and work of the Council last year and the year before
on Beyond Therapy, and there was a whole segment in that
admitting that for properly diagnosed patients with ADHD, that various
stimulants seem to be effective.
But that the same stimulants, ritalin, for example, is
being used and the council's concern was misused in situations
where children don't have that particular diagnosis or disorder,
but often by parents who would like to have the child be particularly
up for exams or other sorts of things.
So I guess my question is really: in your experience or as
you view the scene, how much of these stimulants are being misused, if
you will, for things other than what in your view would be their proper
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: And the last question from Dr.
DR. CARSON: You indicated that children with ADHD can
have selective manifestations, that is, you know, there are some times
when they appear to be affected and other times when they are not.
I'm very intimately familiar with a young man who gets into a lot
of trouble in school, doesn't seem to pay much attention, but is a
whiz at anything he's interested in, games and things of that
Is that person likely to be suffering from the disease or
is he just bored at school?
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Biederman.
DR. BIEDERMAN: Let me see. Just for working memory
issues, I will start with your question and then we'll go
All of these things are empirical questions. We did an
analysis in our sample in children that had IQs about 120 with and
without ADHD to address the boredom hypothesis. Okay? Unfortunately
they had the same level of familiality, the same level of co-morbidity,
the same level of neuropsychological deficits that are the fingerprints
of ADHD compared with children with the same IQ that did not have ADHD.
As I said to you before, you have to have many more IQ
points to do the same if you have ADHD. Remember that life, as I said
before, has a wide range of non-exciting things in front of us every
day. So if you can only attend to the things that you like, you will
be seriously handicapped in your job. It is no different for a child.
For child, school is their job.
So the fact that you can build engines very well because
that's your hobby and you cannot do anything else and you're a
wizard with your engines does not mean that you can forego all the
other things that you may be required to know to be an informed citizen
of our society, and a very complicated society that you're going to
DR. CARSON: Just to follow up, that child was me.
DR. BIEDERMAN: But remember that you should be
very careful. There are people that are survivors, people that
go through greata trials and come out reasonably well. Okay? I
certainly had my own history of misfortunes, but you cannot use
that to generalize.
When I look at these things, I look from the broader
panorama, not the few that will be able to navigate the waters very
well and come out, but the majority may not be as successful as you
But in any event, the other question about misuse, as I
said before, under medication and misusage, there is very little
evidence that that is true. Okay? In medicine if a pediatrician
prescribes an antibiotic to a child that has a viral infection because
of parental pressure or something like that, well, that's not a
good, necessarily medical disposition, but we should be very careful in
my opinion not to throw the baby with the bath water.
And bad medicine in psychiatry or in outside psychiatry is
bad medicine. So somebody that does not have a fever will not benefit
from an antipyretic.
Dr. McHugh was saying about nonspecific treatments. Well,
steroids are very nonspecific. They still help a wide range of medical
conditions, and without steroid treatments, people will die.
So we have to be careful in equating absence of specificity
with the fact that this is a waste basket kind of condition. You know,
many of the treatments that we do in medicines are not curative. If we
give antihypertensive to people that have hypertension secondary to a
wide range of medical problems, they are not ecological treatments, but
can save lives, can allow people to make the progress that they need to
have to maintain a decent existence.
So I would like to caution you that this is not just a
waste basket. The fact that this is heterogeneous, again, you can
conclude that it's a waste basket. All medical conditions are
heterogeneous. There are syndromes, genetic syndromes, that are
produced by different genes that produce a very similar phenotype.
So it does not mean that it's a waste basket. If you
get the flu, you cannot look at a patient and way that you know which
pathogen, which type of virus hits you because they all look physically
So the fact that it's a conglomerate of diseases with
similar phenotype should not necessarily lead to banalization. The
patients that we assess over the last 20 years, and we are now doing
our 15 years follow-up, were very comprehensively assessed. These
children had not only questionnaires. They have questionnaires with
the parents. Each questionnaire, each structured interview takes two
or three hours to administer.
We have similar information from the parents. We have
neuropsychological testing. We have blood for genes. So there is a
convergence here from neuroimaging, two cores, neurological testing,
serious co-morbid psychiatric conditions that these people have.
So I think it's not just that you did a questionnaire
and they had something that we call disease.
I would also like to stress that no clinician treats
people. I don't recruit patients in the streets. "Come and
see me because I have this wonderful stimulants to give you."
People wait a year to see me, and as I told you before, I
never close my clinic. I always see patients, but you have to wait.
The idea is that the treatment that you can — people are tortured
with the notion that they will have — the childhood medications.
They're not looking forward to what was described, that parents
want to advance the children's interest. It's not necessarily
something that I contend. Most of the families that I deal with
are tortured. They waited seven, eight years, and only if the child
is unbelievably unfair, is not able to make the progress that the
child could be expected to make, is failing school, is having difficulty
socially, is having difficulty with his family, has no self-esteem.
At that point, the child can benefit from treatment. So it's
not cosmetic... pharmacology.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you very much, Dr. Biederman.
We will have a very short break. Be back at 10:15 so we
can stay on schedule.
Thank you very much.
(Whereupon, the foregoing matter went off the
record at 10:07 a.m. and went back on the record at 10:16 a.m.)
SESSION 6: NEWBORN SCREENING
FOR GENETIC DISORDERS/DISEASES
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Let's begin the session.
Members of the Council, please be seated, and speakers as
well. Members of the Council, please be seated. We need to send our
border collie out and nip at the heels.
This is our last session for this particular meeting, and we'll
be turning to the subject of newborn screening for genetic disorders.
Our first speaker will be Dr. Jeffrey Botkin, Associate Vice President
for Research Integrity and Professor of Pediatrics at the University
of Utah in Salt Lake City.
The speakers have promised to be clear and brief, and I
hope that will be a sample of what we would expect also from the
Thank you very much.
Dr. Botkin, if you don't mind beginning, Id' very
much appreciate it.
DR. BOTKIN: All right. Thank you, Dr. Pellegrino.
It's certainly an honor to be here for the Council
today. This is a smaller core set of issues, I suspect, from what
you've been discussing at least over the last two days, although
I'm aware that Dr. Fost was here a month or two ago and did have
some information to provide you about newborn screening.
Nevertheless, my plan was to go through a number of talking
points. What I'd like to do is touch on a brief description of the
program, talk a little bit about what the contemporary controversies
are with some specific focus on some of the ethical issues, and then
end with a couple of brief points about at least where I would like to
see these programs go over the next 20 or 30 years.
These are issues that I think have been or were sleeper
issues for a number of years. As a practicing pediatrician in my
younger days, we were aware of the programs, but they weren't
particularly controversial. They were really occurring below the
I think to a large extent that's no longer true, and
that's true both because of some technical innovations that have
changed the nature of the programs, and I think some social dynamics
that have been brought to bear that have changed how people, parents
look at these programs.
Certainly the largest application of genetic testing in the
U.S., four million infants per year being screened with these
technologies, and it is most frequently described these days as a
system. So I want to emphasize that concept. I think too often
it's thought of more strictly in terms of a test, but should be
thought more broadly in terms of a system, because I think it's the
system issues that raise a number of the difficulties.
Parent education may or may not be a component of the
system. Theoretically it is, but oftentimes quite limited, and this
would be education that occurs in the perinatal period, most typically
after the birth of the child.
A test is done, and what I've done is put on the table
here what's known as the Guthrie cards. Heel sticks are done in
the infants; blood spots are provided or put on these circles and then
sent to the state lab. And in fact, this is an example of a relatively
simple technology, but a technology nonetheless, and it's these
cards that I think were a significant invention of Dr. Guthrie to
enable mass screening to be conducted in an efficient manner with
babies. If you had to send two or three cc's to the lab on every
baby, it wouldn't happen.
So the system involves in the blood test or the blood spot
that then goes to the laboratory. The results typically go back to the
primary care physician. The primary care physician, if there's a
difficulty that needs to be followed up with the family, contacts the
family. There is an established mechanism by which the diagnosis is
confirmed. There's short-term intervention for kids who need to
have interventions and then long-term interventions to maintain the
treatment for the affected child.
Now, any one of these components, of course, can be limited
or weak and, therefore, undermine the efficacy of the system in
general, and I would say that the test itself — well, of course,
highly technical is the easy part. The tougher parts, the more
expensive parts are those other system components that involve the
parents, the primary care providers, and the subspecialists who are all
part of the larger system that helps support these kids.
Now, one of the aspects of the program that is strongly
historically based is that they're state based. It's state
health departments that take responsibility for these, and I think
probably one of the few large health programs that are narrowly focused
within state control, and as a result there's some substantial
variability from state to state, and that has become a focus of
significant dialogue in recent years.
And this has to do with the tests that are performed, as
well as the nature of the tests, the specific technologies that might
be employed, and other program components, like who it is that follows
up on the test, et cetera.
All but three of the programs are mandated [meaning the informed
permission of the parents is not required to conduct screening].
Maryland, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia are the exceptions,
meaning the informed permission of the parents is not required to
conduct screening. And I would have to say that this, within the
nursery environment, this certainly is consistent with my experience.
This is just not a high priority item for care providers.
Frequently, in this day and age, babies go home less than
24 hours of age. Particularly for new parents, there's just an
enormous amount of material that needs to be covered. People need to
rest. People need basic education about baby care, and they want
screening as simply not a high priority item, given the a priori risk
for many of these infants is quite low.
So it is an issue that does not end up having a significant
amount of information related to parents about the nature of these
Now, all but two states permit parental refusal for
religious or philosophic reasons. However, parents are not routinely
informed of their option to refuse, and in those states that do have an
informed consent process, like Maryland, the number of parents who
actually refuse screening is literally a handful per year.
Now, residual blood spots that I won't at least in my
comments stress at all is another interesting domain here. Virtually
all cards will have residual blood left after the mandatory screening
programs have been conducted. So states will store these for various
periods of time, various lengths of time. Utah, for three months and
then destroys them. Some states at this point for 21 years or
indefinitely, and an interesting potential source of DNA on the
Somewhat unclear how long the analytes for a variety of the
other tests stayed good on those cards, but the DNA appears to stay
good for quite a long period of time. So if many states were to retain
these resources for decades, you would essentially have a DNA sample on
a large segment of the population that would be potentially quite
useful for a variety of applications.
Now, I will say that these programs really have been
remarkably successful. To the extent that I've been critical of
some issues, I don't think there's any question that the
programs in general really have been extraordinarily beneficial, and
particularly for conditions like PKU and hypothyroidism. These are
conditions that will cause devastation, neurologic impairment in
children by the time that they are detected clinically. So a screening
approach is essential to pick up these kids prior to that damage, and
the treatments are relatively straightforward. Although sometimes the
treatment for PKU is underestimated in terms of the burden that that
can provide to the child and the family, nevertheless, these are
paradigm conditions for this approach, and I think this has worked
Part of the question is whether other conditions mirror the
characteristics of PKU and hyperthyroidism and our ability to
adequately intervene and protect children, as has been the case with
All right. So what are the contemporary issues? Wide
variability from state to state without clear justification for why
that is. Local political pressures, local lay pressures, local
expertise, different looks at the data at the state level. There's
a wide variability, and I think there has been a concerted effort in
recent years to say that this is not a rational system. We ought to
have more uniformity across states with the types of tests that are
being offered, and perhaps with the technology that is being used for
Rapid increase in the number of conditions on the screening
panels, and that's the majority of my slides here to illustrate for
you. These are from Brad Therell, 2000. I mostly just want to point
your attention to the purple, more than eight disorders, again, 2000,
largely East Coast, north East Coast that had more than eight; 2001,
2003, 2004, October 2005. My home State of Utah is now purple having
implemented tandem mass this past month.
So we now have quite a few states. Thirty-six states, I
believe, have more than eight disorders on their panels now, whereas in
2000 there were eight states with more than eight disorders, and this
expansion is really due to new technology, and specifically tandem mass
spectroscopy and do a test simultaneously on 30 or more conditions from
a single blood spot, and I think this is central to the ethical issues
that are part of the newborn screening debate at this point.
And I think folks are anticipating the prospects of DNA
based testing in the not too distant future, and so the number of tests
that conceivably could be done on newborn screening spots is really
quite large in number.
So part of the challenge that I'll mention here in a
few minutes really is that. How do we draw appropriate lines around
the types of test that ought to be implemented with this type of
I think this expansion is due to a variety of things, the technology,
of course, and also lay advocacy in an emerging commercial market
for newborn screening. Here's a screen shot of the Pediatrix
Web site, a company that provides commercial newborn screening.
Some states contract with this company to provide their screening.
I believe they're up to about 50 conditions now on their panel,
and these are marketed through women's magazines, et cetera,
to parents directly as a way of providing care for their children.
So I think this commercial market has helped foster and
encourage states to look pretty hard at a competitively large panel.
I'd be interested in Mike's comments on that.
From my perspective, I think data on the efficacy of population
screening for many of the conditions that are now part of these
large panels is limited. It's very difficult to do research
on rare conditions. Some 12 of the 29 conditions that are on the
ACMG panel have an incidence of less than about one in 100,000.
Much of the information to support screening for these rare disorders
comes from small, uncontrolled observational studies, and given
the rare nature of these conditions, if you're a clinician who
has seen three or four kids with any one condition, then you are
the world expert.
So oftentimes it's historical controls, I think, that
are used to try to determine whether newer interventions are effective
Again, from my perspective I think population screening has
proven to be rarely an effective intervention for very many things in
medicine. We have enthusiasm over the years for a variety of different
approaches, and once the data is collected, we're disappointed.
I'm old enough to remember when a chest X-ray was done
on every kid, every person admitted to the hospital. It seemed like a
great idea. Once people collected the data on it, it's not that it
never worked. You know, the argument is that you never found anything
of value on those films. The argument is the benefits, the occasional
good information that was provided was swamped by the false positives,
the expense and the complexity of the program.
And I think we see that today. Mammography is recommended
for women 50 and older. It's not recommended for women under 40.
Is that because breast cancer doesn't occur at that age or that
mammography is not useful at that age? You know, no. You could pick
up cases at the younger age. It's just that the value of the
screening program, given the low incidence and the high number of false
positives overwhelms the benefits that are achieved by those
So I think the questions are still out there with respect
to many of these conditions about whether that will be the case for
this population screening.
Now, of course, these are conditions that are not curable
in any sort of quick infectious disease type sense. They're
manageable or partially manageable through oftentimes fairly
complicated and burdensome interventions over time, and the question
then is is that part of the system. How well does our system support
kids and families who have to maintain these complicated support
services for kids over time, and if they're unable to do so, then
the value of the screening program is substantially reduced.
Now, negative impacts of screening. I alluded to them a little
bit, but I'll enumerate them a little bit more explicitly here.
The positive predictive value from any newborn screening test
is less than two percent. Positive predictive value means the percentage
of positive tests that are true positives. Okay. So a two percent
positive predictive value means of 100 people who end up positive
on your test, two of those are affected with the condition. Ninety-eight
are false positives. Many are less than one percent. For a tandem
mass [spectrometry test] the figure is relatively good, approximately
ten percent, meaning of the initial positives ten are true positives
and 90 will be false positives.
Now, that's an enormous cost to the program because
much of the system is designed around trying to track down these
parents, find out whether the kids are true positives or false
positives, and those personnel issues end up being problematic. Simply
finding people in this day and age has become enormously problematic.
But probably more importantly is that the research
consistently shows that some parents with false positive kids continue
to believe there's something wrong with their child. Somewhere
between five to ten, some studies up to 20 percent. Interview these
folks later. They're still anxious about it, or in fact, they may
say, you know, "I'm not sure. You know, they told me he might
have CF and then they said it was okay, but I'm not
From the clinician's perspective, you give them the
good news. You tell them, you know, it was all false positive;
don't worry about it. Well, a percentage of folks do worry about
it, and that's the burden of the programs.
The nature of many of these rare conditions in particular
is not well defined. Screening detects individuals who have abnormal
biochemical profiles, but no apparent clinical disease. So these
individuals can be harmed if unnecessary treatments are implemented
when they're not indicated.
So if you look across the spectrum of severity for the
condition, you have folks, kids who may die in the neonatal period no
matter what you do, and you have folks on the other end of the spectrum
who may never have manifestations during the course of their life. You
can't tell those apart necessarily in the newborn period.
So if you've got a restrictive diet, if you've got
an intervention that you're going to use for those kids, it may be
applied to that segment of the population that doesn't need it
because they've got a more benign form of the condition, and this
was fully illustrated with the PKU experience early on.
I know Norman Fost talked a little bit about this. Hyperphenylalaninemia
basically is a benign condition, looks like PKU. Some of those
kids were put on restrictive diets. Some died; some had malnutrition
as a result. I think Norm has larger estimates of the number of
kids out there than many folks do — I don't know — that have
seen data on that, but it's clearly a problem.
I'll illustrate that quickly just with some more recent
figures. MCAD is, I think without question, the one condition or a
condition on the tandem mass panel that most folks are quite convinced
is a worthwhile modality. So a large study done in Australia and a
couple of territories there by Bridge Wilcken, they found 16 affected
children per 100,000 kids screened, and what they did was look
retrospectively at how many kids had been diagnosed clinically within
these populations during four-year periods, and in general two to seven
kids were diagnosed clinically in any four-year period before tandem
mass was implemented.
Once tandem mass was implemented, during that four-year
period they found 17 children. So what's the explanation? I mean,
it might have been that some of the kids died and were not adequately
identified as having MCAD previously during the clinical phase, but
it's also quite possible that they were diagnosing, finding folks
with MCAD who never would show up with disease, and maybe they're
symptomatic and struggling with different aspects of their health, and
this would provide benefit, but I think we're uncertain about that.
All right. What are the current controversies? What
criteria should be used to include the test on a newborn screening
The next few slides here, and I think your handouts show
what have always been the classic criteria. Wilson and Jungner from
1968, World Health Organization publication, and these have always been
public health criteria. These were not developed for newborn screening
per se, but for public health screening more broadly.
And I'm not going to go through these individually, but
part of the point here is that they are quite front loaded for benefit
to the individual involved and quite a bit of knowledge about condition
and systems in place to support affected individuals.
Institute of Medicine, with their report in 1994, quite a
bit more terse. They had three conditions specifically designed for
newborn screening, number one being for conditions for which there are
indications of clear benefit to the newborn.
So clear benefit to the newborn has been traditionally a
central justification. I think part of the dialogue, a significant
part of the dialogue in recent years has been questioning that. Is it
appropriate to consider tests for which there may be marginal or even
no benefits to the newborn if there are benefits to family members?
And there's a couple of family member benefits that are
really quite real: elimination of the so-called diagnostic Odyssey.
Many of these conditions will take families through the clinic multiple
times, enormous levels of frustration trying to figure out what's
wrong with my baby, and ultimately the diagnosis is made.
Screening may eliminate the diagnostic Odyssey in many
Secondly, information for reproductive planning. If it
takes time to make the clinical diagnosis for a child, say a, year and
a half, two years, what's happened in the meantime not infrequently
is the second affected child has been born.
So even if there's no benefit to the child from
screening, the argument goes families are forewarned of their
reproductive risks and can take measures either to have no babies, do
prenatal diagnosis, whatever they might choose to do for future
Now, there have been concerns about whether this early
diagnosis of kids prior to the time that they would present clinically
eliminates sort of this window of — I don't know the right term
for it .- sort of blissful ignorance for lack of a better term that
parents might have with their child, and folks have looked at this in
the context of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This is a condition that
there was pilot screening for in Pennsylvania and Wales. Nothing can
be done for kids with muscular dystrophy by way of treatment that will
eliminate the mortality track. Supportive treatment, but this would
not be a condition that you would screen for because you can do early
So they talked to parents about whether it be neonatal
diagnosis of these kids rather than a diagnosis more typically at two
to three years of age, in any way impaired their relationship with the
child, and the research did not show that that was an issue.
So I think ethicists remain concerned about that issue, but
the limited data we have available right now suggests that that may not
be an actual concern.
One paper recently illustrated another potential approach
to newborn screening outside baby benefit, and that's what they
called reverse cascade. They were looking at hemochromatosis, a
hereditary condition of iron metabolism, problematic for population
screening, and so what they did is they screened babies. This was in
France, identified carriers and affected infants, and then went back to
their parents and grandparents to screen for affected individuals, and
they suggest that's an appropriate screening strategy primarily to
benefit the parents and grandparents.
All right. The second or third concern here, what are the
ethical responsibilities to report test results for conditions that are
not specifically targeted by the program? Tandem mass is a so-called
multiplex technology, meaning it analyzes the chemistry of these
specimens rather exhaustively. You may be only looking for one or two
conditions on that output, but you've got the output for all 30 or
What do you do with that information? Is it ethically
appropriate to ignore that, knowing that there may be implications as a
result to the kids and families from not having disclosed that
information or does the fact that you get that information provide an
obligation to relay that to folks even if it doesn't fit what would
be the standard criteria that have been in place for a while? I think
this is a tough question.
What's the role of parental permission with newborn
screening? A separate issue, long debated. I would say programs and
providers do not support an informed permission process. A number of
professional organizations, including Institute of Medicine, however,
have advocated such a process. The few studies that have asked parents
about this, parents don't actually expect an informed permission
process. They're willing to go with a system in which they
recognize that there's a unique environment within the newborn
nursery. They don't necessarily feel like they have to talk to
folks in detail and make these sorts of decisions, the majority at
least. Obviously there's a spectrum of opinion on that.
So I would say from the program perspective, there's
probably little emerging pressure to have a permission process for
things like PKU and hyperthyroidism. Where it becomes problematic is
when you have other conditions for which you really don't have good
data of the efficacy of the program.
If you've justified your mandatory program on clear
benefits to the baby and you don't have those clear benefits, how
is it that you're justifying the mandatory aspect of those
And then lastly, what's the appropriate approach to
establish efficacy for screening programs? I think there are multiple
challenges here, rare conditions, how you do research when conditions
are less than one in 100,000 kids.
The state-based organizations, I think, are a barrier to
conduct research. Health departments are there to provide services.
They're not academic institutions where research is a significant
component of their daily set of activities. I think hopefully
additional research funds can be funnelled through health departments,
but at this point I think it's simply not the same kind of
environment that academic centers provide for research.
Limited funding has always been a problem, and then ethical
concerns over randomized controlled trials.
All right. So that's my personal vision, and I would
say that these are issues that are not going to strike anybody as
particularly unique. I think Institute of Medicine articulated many of
these a decade ago now when they looked at these issues, and I think
Mike and I are in agreement about many of them as well, if not all of
them. I think there has to be an effort at professional consensus on
some of the key ethical issues.
How this would be done I'm not sure. Perhaps another
Institute of Medicine type of approach on some of these issues would be
beneficial, although I think that there's always a challenge in
translating professional statements into actual policy that's a
matter of some frustration.
Nevertheless, the issues that I think need further
discussion are questions around multiplex technology. I think
we're going to be increasingly seeing this with DNA technology. We
see it with tandem mass. What do you do with the full spectrum of
results when you're only looking for a smaller subset that meets
Secondly, informed permission from parents, I think, needs
additional discussion particularly in light of the experimental nature
that everybody is going to be advocating for better addressing these
issues. We need to think more clearly about what the role of parental
permission in education is.
Third, we need to think more clearly as well about the
criteria for newborn screening. If it's significant benefit to
that child, then I think there will not be significant difficulties
that arise down the road. I think if we're willing to say, well,
this is an opportunity to provide benefits to other people because we
have a captive audience within the nursery that's a wedge into the
larger family, then there's really no logical line to draw around
that. We could be doing an enormous number of tests on babies in the
not too distant future, particularly if the $100 full sequence genome
becomes a reality in the next 20 years or so.
Research ethics issues I think are still with us, how to do
research in this context, particularly where it's problematic for
control trials that I tried to address in the paper that I think was in
your folder. Adequate funding is certainly a question.
Longer term, how should the system look? Regional and
national pilot programs to assess efficacy of screening prior to full
implementation, but that would just be expected that one moves from
evidence of benefit in small trials to pilot studies with consistent
data collection across the country. If these tests are important for
child health, then, of course, they're important to do in the
right way with the right data collection.
There ought to be a national registry of affected children,
and along with that longitudinal surveillance of the affected kids for
health status, developmental status, psychosocial, and cost impacts as
And one way to conduct this research actually is something
that Mike may speak more about, but it's setting up something like
the Children's Oncology Group. Cancer also fortunately is a rare
phenomenon in kids, and what's been done is to set up several
centers around the country that are conducting research on cancer, and
a large percentage of kids with cancer in general are enrolled in
clinical studies. That's probably the single greatest reason why
there's been so much progress made in childhood cancer compared to
adult cancer, where a very small percentage of adults with cancer are
enrolled in clinical trials.
So you can feed kids who are affected with these conditions
in the central centers. They can use protocols to compare established
treatments with innovative treatments and try to draw some conclusions
within a reasonable time about whether these things work or not.
Under the current system we will be arguing 20 years from
now whether these tests benefit kids or harm kids, and if we're
going to move forward here, I think we need to do so in the context of
a comprehensive research enterprise.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you very much, Dr. Botkin, for
your conciseness and especially for touching on some of the ethical
issues and some recommendations for us. I appreciate it.
We're going to turn now to Dr. Michael Watson, who is
the Executive Director of the American College of Medical Genetics. He
will make his presentation, and then we will have interrogation.
DR. WATSON: Interrogation. All right.
DR. WATSON: Well, thanks for — that's an interesting
use of the word. We'll see how it goes — I appreciate your
inviting us here to talk. Jeff and I actually were at a meeting
together just last week and recognize that at this level, I think, of
entry into this topic, that it was probably better for us to just both
speak and then take questions sort of together because I think, as he
alluded to, we probably agree on the great majority of the system and
However, the difference, I think, in my perspective was
driven by the fact that we were asked as an organization to address
specifically the kinds of conditions that ought to be included in a
uniform panel of screening, which placed us where the rubber meets the
road, and it's nice to talk about all of the past policy decisions
that have been made. To operationalize that is another problem
So what I want to do is not surprisingly Jeff and I, our
slides may almost be identical. So I'll try to avoid saying the
same things he said unless I disagree with what he said, which
there's very little of that, in fact. And what I will do though is
try to drill down a bit more into some of these issues he alluded to
because they are the issues that we specifically faced in trying to
operationalize the decision making around newborn screening.
And I'll do it actually through a few different
mechanisms. I think thinking about the development of phenylketonuria
screening is a very good example of some of the problems that we had
that actually none of the systems have ever addressed. The systems are
quite difficult in that they are a mix of quantitative and qualitative
measures that can become very difficult in trying to make decisions
around the difference between objective criteria, like the incidence of
a disease, versus the subjective, about what is perceived as a benefit
to either the child, the family or society, a very difficult process to
work your way through on a condition-by-condition basis, and realizing
that when we did our analysis, we looked at 84 — well, 79 conditions
— within a couple of clusters of conditions, which left us with a
feeling that it was different in the past.
In the past you looked at a condition and said,
"Okay. It seems to meet these criteria in general." You may
prioritize one criteria over another, but you look at a condition on an
individual basis, and we're looking at 79 to 80 conditions and now
are trying to rank them against one another really as to what is more
appropriate because I think as Jeff suggested, the potential for
screening for enormous numbers of things based on the technologies that
are becoming available is clearly moving this field very rapidly. But
we don't have a good approach to sorting out the issues that really
I think David Atkins captured it well recently. He's
with the AHRQ, their evidence based medicine approach, where he, when
looking at newborn screening and many of our recommendations, suggested
that somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of the differences in
perception were really ones of your perception of the data and your
value system, and about ten percent of the difference was actually in
the evidence itself. So we had a complex problem to deal with.
Excuse me just a minute. My arms aren't quite this
All right. So very briefly as Jeff indicated, newborn
screening today is a public health program. It's mandated at
individual state levels. That does bring significant difficulties to
the process because a test in one state is not the same test in another
state. So just aggregating data becomes an enormous difficulty in
trying to compare performance and to bring all of the data that has
been collected across the country together to make decisions.
The fundamental basis of the programs historically has been
aimed at the identification of conditions for which early intervention
can prevent mortality, morbidity, and disability. And I would say in
the earliest days, it was very much focused on conditions in which one
made a very large difference in the outcome of the individual, and a
lot of what we're beginning to see is incremental improvements and
recommendations from what is now a very strong consumerism movement in
the United States to recognize incremental benefits as being useful,
not just the very large benefits between a severely affected child and
a near normal outcome.
For the most part, newborn screening is based on diagnostic markers
identified in blood spots, but there is another trend. Jeff showed
you the blood spot card where the blood is collected. However,
there is another whole set of newborn screening that arising in
the nursery environment. Jeff alluded to hearing loss in the one
child he showed. That is not a test that is done through bioanalytical
markers. It's done in the nursery. It screens the child for
hearing loss and becomes a very different system, and there are
an array of conditions now that are actually being pilot tested
within the nursery: hyperbilirubinemia as a screening study since
we've had an up tick in the occurrence of Kernicterus in the
country. There's quite a number of conditions that could potentially
be done in the nursery, and then tied to the public health reporting
system so that the state's responsibility would really be the
oversight of the program and ensuring that everything happened in
a public health setting for the screening of that condition.
But that's an interesting evolution of the programs
that has occurred just over the last couple of years.
And the extent of the program and the analytical platforms that
are chosen for screening are decided on a state basis independently,
and there's enormous differences in the tests chosen for a particular
analyte to be screened that, again, makes it increasingly difficult
to have that comparative data, which is critical for rare diseases
because one state, for instance, the condition homocystinuria, most
states won't see one of those in a year, which has implications
for quality of testing and lots of downstream implications, and
then to have them identified through different technical approaches
makes it increasingly difficult to compare really what you started
with in those different states.
So I'll come back to this in just a moment and say that
just a little bit more around what is the newborn screening program and
system because, as Jeff suggested, it is a system. Screening does not
operate in and of itself, though it does in the private sector.
Clearly, there are two competing kinds of screening
involving the state mandated screening programs and another component
that's referred to as supplemental screening, and in fact, some
states have actually mandated that mothers in the nursery be made aware
of the availability of supplemental screening, and that's
particularly in the context of the state feeling that other states have
progressed further than they have, and they have taken on a
responsibility feeling that they need to tell the parents that there is
more available out there that can be purchased privately.
So screening is central to the system, but there's a
short-term responsibility of tracking those children down that the
state program takes on. That's greatly complicated by the fact
that the hospital system has not assumed responsibility for the
tracking of the children that come through the system for newborn
The newborn screening program has been shifted into the
laboratory component of hospitals where it's a reference lab send
out type of system, and the hospital does not necessarily take the same
responsibility for those specimens as it does for an in-patient within
the hospital itself.
Once identified and tracked down as having been screened
positive, the diagnostic component of the system kicks in, and
that's largely through — in some states, in fact, the referral is
made directly to specialists for the condition related to the marker
that was found to be elevated.
In other states the primary care physician is the front
lines, and for some conditions like sickle cell, there's a feeling
that one needs to tell the family and the primary care physician and
the specialist simultaneously, with the feeling that that family may
not have the same kind of access into the health care system, and
therefore, the family becomes much more directly in the loop.
In most metabolic screening, the primary care physician is
given the information and that is then communicated to the family.
Once the diagnostic system has kicked in and you move into
the management and treatment side, which is presumed to be available
because that's one of the really critical criteria by which one
assesses a condition, that there is a management or treatment
intervention that can make a significant difference in the outcome of
that child, and then two critical system components, one being
evaluation of the program. Is it working or not? And that was
stunningly difficult for us because of the great differences between
the states and their approaches to screening their technologies, their
cutoffs for analytes made it particularly difficult. But one assesses
the entire system right from identification in the screening process to
did you realize the outcome that was expected based on having
identified and intervened.
And then education. Education is critical to the
development of these programs, and it's not just the education of
the family who is participating in newborn screening. Clearly, this
has been a program that has occurred in the nursery. I can't think
of a worse time to try to deliver education than in the nursery at the
time of delivery, and there are significant efforts taking place to
shift that up into the prenatal period and shift the burden from
pediatricians in the nursery down to the obstetrician-gynecology
community who have a much longer, ongoing relationship with a mother
who is pregnant and has a much better opportunity for education. So, I
mean, clearly a problem, but one that we have begun to address as at
least being fixable to some extent.
Now, Jeff showed you this same thing. I'll zip through
this since he gave you the perspective already. It is expanding fast.
This is actually from the perspective of the percentage of babies born
in the United States as opposed to the number of states. Wyoming is
not going to make a significant difference in the total number of
babies born in the United States. California, Texas and Florida
comprise nearly a third of the babies born in the United States.
So in 2002, when we were asked to do a scientific analysis
of the conditions under consideration, about four percent of the babies
born in the United States were screened for more than 20 conditions.
I'm going to blast through this because you saw this
already. I won't even dwell on it.
In 2004, while our study was still ongoing, it may have had
some impact on some of the decision making in the states because we
were quite open about our process and where things were going. At that
point in time about 37 percent of the babies born in the United States
were being screened for more than 20 conditions, and you can see that
there's about six states where only four conditions are being
And now, as of last week, 66 percent of the babies born in
the United States are being screened for more than 20 conditions, and
you can see that the minimum number is now up to eight, and that's
a bit of an aberration.
California recently announced that we're going to
screen for 77 conditions. The states don't even count these things
the same. So it becomes a rather murky kind of topic to address.
California got 77 because it said we're going to screen for sickle
cell anemia, but we're using a technology that is multiplex in its
nature, isoelectric focusing and HPLC will show you all of the globin
variance, and what they said was, okay, there's 25 clinically
significant combinations of variants, each of which is a condition. So
there's this fine line between marketing and counting that gets
very complex, and clearly the private sector has driven that to some
extent in claiming that we're screening for increasing numbers of
I think if you take PKU as an example there are sort of two
competing problems when you look at how it evolved. We thought we were
screening for PKU. We were screening for too much phenylalanine being
present. Jeff alluded to the fact that there is a benign
hyperphenylanemia usually characterized by intermediate levels of
phenylalanine, but over the years what we've learned is that there
are other conditions with increased amounts of phenylalanine. There
are biopterin regeneration defects and biopterin defects of generation
of the material.
Each one of those is two separate genes. So for PKU now we
have at least five different genes that we are considering when we
think about it. Four of those are so rare that you couldn't make a
decision based on them independently. However, we're screening for
the marker of too much phenylalanine, and I think that's an
Jeff alluded to it in talking about all of the extra
information we get and whether we should tell people or not. The
reality is that when we screen for too much phenylalanine, we're
really looking for PKU, but we acknowledge that during the differential
diagnosis of having too much phenylalanine, it's quite possible
that you're going to find that the patient actually has one of
these other conditions.
But that is not something that the system is revealing.
That's actually a physician-patient relationship and sorting out
what that baby's reason for having too much phenylalanine is and is
not subject to, I think, decision making about whether or not I tell
the patient that.
And that actually accounts for probably 90 percent of the
conditions in our panel that are called secondary targets. The
condition is part of the differential diagnosis based on the analyte
used to identify a core condition in the panel.
So as you see, we have great disparity across the country
in what's available. We have a very mobile society now. So
families, in fact, have been the driving force in newborn screening
since day one. The Guthrie card was Robert Guthrie who had a child
with phenylkonuria, drove the system, organized families, and lobbied
for the development of newborn screening.
That and technology have probably been the two main driving
forces, and our organization and approach to sorting out what we should
and shouldn't do and what are the criteria by which we make those
decisions has lagged tremendously behind.
As you look, I mean, newborn screening is often said to be a universal
screening program. That's why we embed it in public health
programs, because in an environment in our health care system where
access is increasingly difficult to large percentages of the population
for various resource or other reasons, the only place where we could
assure access to all newborns was in this public health system.
So it's imbedded there, and we acknowledge that that
was an important place to keep it in order to provide that broad
There are now, as I said, there are more than just those
three conditions. Sickle cell is now screened in all states, and at
least three other combinations of a sickle allele with anther
hemoglobin chain are also identified.
It's not perceived as fair by the public. Newborn
screening programs have gone through episodes where they try to target
specific populations. This was done in the U.K. for some conditions
thought to be most common in the African American population, failed
In the United States we've had similar difficulties
because in reality selecting a population by some ethnic criteria is
not a surrogate for long distant ancestry of origin of that particular
population that is at true risk, and those are very different concepts,
and selected population screening has not worked well.
So do limited pilot programs, tend to be some of the larger
states. There's probably only two states that have a significant
research component to their newborn screening program because they are
much more service oriented. So it has been very difficult to do the
pilot studies and develop the kind of information that's needed.
The NIH is currently looking at developing a group of
states within which they might be able to pilot studies much more
effectively than we have in the past, and it has been left to consumer
initiative. As I said, some states have said, okay, we're just
going to tell them that all of this other stuff is available in the
private sector, and it's not uniform as I think you've seen.
So getting down to that, sort of drilling down into the
detail of what you have to do, where the rubber meets the road and
you're going to be trying to make decisions about conditions, you
have to have some criterion, and as I said, Wilson and Jungner criteria
are not particularly quantifiable. There are general considerations.
More harm than good, you know, is a reason for not screening, but
that's a unitary sort of value and very difficult to quantify
because you're aggregating a lot of different criteria and values
together in making your ultimate decision.
There has been prior policy guidance. I gave you a paper by Brad
Therelle that touches on a series of those, the work by WHO in 1968
that really resulted in the Wilson-Jungner criteria, criteria that
were actually developed around, I believe, chronic disease screening
in adults. So it was not ideal for newborn screening, but conceptually
had a lot of useful information.
1975, the National Academy of Science expanded on that, and
what they did was take those criteria for the most part and develop
some procedural guidance around how one might use them, but still
considerable qualitative kinds of information being considered in
In 1994, the Task Force on Genetic Testing that I
co-chaired looked at newborn screening to a limited extent and tried to
lay out some more specificity about the nature of the laboratory
testing and some of the quality assurance issues needed to be able to
really understand whether or not something was going to work or not.
And then in 1999, probably the most recent very useful
study was the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Newborn
Screening that looked at the full breadth of the newborn screening
programs and made general recommendations across the full spectrum
about how we as a nation can improve newborn screening.
One of the recommendations they made is that there should
be an organized activity towards determining what is appropriate for
screening at this point in time. It was clear that many states had
already expanded newborn screening with most of the expansion really
being tandem mass spectrometry and then counting, in the way you count
up how many times you're screening for.
The condition itself is a mix. There are some very
objective criteria there. The incidence of the disease, if you have
good population data, you can say this is the incidence. But now what
we realize is that technology has changed our perception of incidence.
Whereas you might not screen for a condition that's found in one in
100,000 or one in 200,000 in the population, the technology may
actually through its multiplex capacity allow you to screen for that
and a whole lot of other things.
So if you look at tandem mass spectrometry, there's
about 43 total conditions that you can diagnose through tandem mass
spectrometry. Many of them we didn't think appropriate for newborn
screening, and, in fact, there's a couple of different tests
because it's one scan of the system gets you a group of
acylcarnitines for the fatty acid oxidation defects and organic
acidurias. Another scan gets you the amino acids.
So there's a couple of different tests mixed into it,
but among the amino acidurias there's a half a dozen. So when one
thinks about the incidence of any one of them, the test is actually
doing them all at once. So that criteria gets quite muddied.
Other aspects of the condition is clearly the burden of the
condition. If you think about something like cystic fibrosis where if
you did it by DNA, you could be identifying individuals at risk for
sinusitis through mutations in the CFTR gene. You want to focus on
those things that really are related to severe disease. so you begin
to narrow down. If you were to do it mutationally, you'd want
those associated with severe disease presumably for screening, but the
preference is for functional assays that tell you that whatever
mutation might be present in the gene, that you're really looking
at the expression of that through the elevation of product of a
And those get you at least closer to the endpoint of a
functional identification of an at risk individual as opposed to the
DNA level where the variable expressivity of the conditions is quite a
problem that will be faced in the future.
The screening test itself, obviously without that you
don't even think about screening for a particular condition, and
when we analyze these 70, 80, 90 conditions, there were 27 where we
just said there isn't even a screening test available both through
a cost perspective. There are tests available, but certainly that
don't meet the screening criteria.
We actually considered the fact that a test had a multiplex
capability as something of value in a public health setting. When you
reach the diagnosis level, there's a number of considerations that
come into play. Diagnosis can be done by a primary care physician, for
instance, in hyperthyroidism, a relatively common condition in newborn
For many of the metabolic diseases, diagnosis takes place
at the level of a group of specialists who are in incredibly small
numbers in the United States, and that's a problem in and of
itself. And we ascribed greater value to a diagnostic that could be
done more broadly in the physician community than we did to one that
was restricted to the smaller group of experts and have gone the next
step now of really developing materials that facilitate people's
understanding of when they need the experts and how to get them and
loop them into the system so that as a collaborative management
approach to many of these rare diseases.
Management and treatment needs to be available. Many of
the same issues, complicated by the fact that with many of these
conditions, given that there is mutation variability in the gene that
has implications for severity, that management and treatment is not a
single entity. Some will present earlier in life as Jeff alluded to
and perhaps before the newborn screening result comes back.
Others will be milder. That's the reality of genetics
in the current day.
Potential harms? We approached the potential harms really from
a much more clinical perspective. We did our work through a contract
from the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Material
and Child Health Bureau and were specifically asked to address the
scientific issues and evaluating conditions. So we did not spend
a lot of our time thinking about the consent issues. There were
parallel projects occurring in the country that we're addressing,
many of those kinds of ELSI and consent issues and other aspects
of newborn screening.
But the hard part is putting it all together at the end.
You've got all of these criteria. Some people think that the
ability to treat is the major one. If you can screen and you can
treat, then that, you know — those are really the trump cards. So
there's a lot of difference of opinion, and that's where the
value system begins to come into play as to where are you going to
place your priorities across these various criteria, some of which are
clearly quite subjective.
What is the benefit? Jeff has alluded to many of those.
There are families in Fragile X Syndrome, for instance. It's an
interesting condition; didn't meet our criteria for newborn
screening, but as you think about it, it's relatively common.
It's more common than many of the things in our panel.
But the improvement is one of early intervention programs
for mental retardation and developmental disability. Very much more
incremental and significant questions as to whether or not in the
mainstream school system you realize the kind of benefits from early
intervention that you might in the best center in the country, where
very few of these individuals are going to be seen.
So that's a problem. It's a condition though where
Jeff suggested about two years was the diagnostic Odyssey length. In
Fragile X Syndrome, it's closer to four years. Most families have
completed their family planning by the time the diagnosis is finally
established and argue strongly that one should broaden that benefit
consideration out to those things that might have implications for
reproductive decision making.
I'll keep moving quickly now.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you very much, Dr. Watson. Oh,
I'm sorry. I thought you —
DR. WATSON: Well, this will go actually quite quickly.
I won't spend a lot of time on many of the issues that
Jeff has already alluded to. Things that complicated our problem were
the clinical, biochemical, and molecular complexity of the conditions
that we considered and this interrelatedness between the markers and
their involvement in multiple diseases that are part of really a
continuity in a biochemical pathway that make many of the conditions
quite similar at the analytical level.
The impact of these multiplex platforms is significant, and
their ability to identify numerous biochemical markers. There were
tradeoffs here. Clearly one can adjust tandem mass spectrometry so
that you can focus it on certain conditions, but there are tradeoffs in
the quality of the testing and it's important to realize that most
newborn screening laboratories in the country have been run by clinical
chemists who have been in those systems for a very long time.
Many of the new genomic technologies are brand new. So
they had a long learning curve in developing that technology and
bringing it in. Jeff suggested a positive predictive value was a
significant problem. We've already seen in tandem mass
spectrometry in the country that in some states the positive predictive
value of screening by tandem mass spec is two percent. In others
it's 50 percent. They have maximized the performance of their
testing systems, and it had implications throughout the way they
approach the patient.
If you're 50-50 when you go out for diagnostics, you
don't just begin confirming the condition. You start looking for
hyperanenemia and associated things because you want to be ready to
treat, and it's not going to cost you as much to take that step.
If it's one in 50, you're probably not going to make some of
the investments in some of the residual phenotypes of these conditions,
but really very much more focus on confirming the fact that it really
is before you start down that pathway.
The process by which we understand genetic conditions, we
really don't understand genetic conditions until we have done them
in newborn screening. We go through a long series of biases. We start
with the most severe versions of the disease. We move into families
that we see less severe versions within the family.
We move out into phenotypes and look at that group, and it
gets less severe again, and it's not until we do the general
population that we actually understand the implications of this gene
for the broader population.
There's a lot of gaps in the level of clinical knowledge among the
stakeholders. It think it's well accepted that there are many
stakeholders, families, organizations like yours, and there's
a wide range of expertise and understanding of genetics in these
conditions that come to play.
And then the whole consent issue, which I won't touch
And then lastly, things on the horizon. Lots and lots of
new technologies and treatments are already in the pipeline. The field
is moving at a remarkable pace. I've mentioned a few, and we can
perhaps discuss others during the discussion section.
It's recognized though that this has become very much a national
issue, and there have been moved made already. There is a national
advisory committee, the Advisory Committee on Inheritable Disorders
and Genetic Diseases of Newborns and Children, advisory to the Secretary
of HHS is developing strategies for a national level look at conditions
to consider their appropriateness for newborn screening. They're
looking at models like the immunization practices models that have
continuously upgraded the vaccination programs in the country as
an approach to bringing this scientific information together with
the other interest.
Lots of new indications. We've talked about conditions with
less dramatic intervention or improvements from interventions, reproductive
decision making. Lots and lots of talk about late onset disorders
where to this day many of the interventions are much less clear,
but we're already seeing a group of conditions like the lysosmal
storage diseases where there are versions of those that will present
in the newborn period and can be intervened, treatments that have
gone through FDA and are approved, but there are subsets of those
patients who don't get the disease until they're 40 or 50,
and they all show up on newborn screening, so that we increasingly
need to have an organized system to move people into expertise that
will deal with their particular diagnostic issues as best as can
be done. And then expansion, as I said, into the nursery.
So the big things we need. Data collection is huge. The
Children's Oncology Group model is a nice one, but genetics is
going to be hard because it's everywhere. Oncology at least, I was
in the Children's Oncology Group for 20 years, and it was a
spectacular program. It allowed us to raise the standards for the
laboratories because we were doing clinical investigation to a large
Raising the standards for those labs so that the best
information was coming into the system on which decisions would be made
about what to do and what works was critical, and we don't have
that in the current laissez faire kind of marketplace for how we work
through these patient populations.
Education is an enormous problem. Genetics and knowledge and genetics
has expanded enormously over ten years. In 1990, 50 percent of
the medical schools in the country didn't even teach it, outside
of Mendel's peas and that kind of perspective of genetics.
And the quality of testing is becoming an interesting
problem as well where we have programs to improve performance across
the country, all of which are going to be necessary to get to that kind
of uniform data that we need to ultimately make the kind of decisions
that have to be made about what's appropriate and what's not.
So I'll stop there and be interrogated.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you very much, Dr. Watson.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: I want to remind the Council members
we have 30 minutes for questions. You can direct them to either of the
speakers or simultaneously. Dave will keep you in order, the order of
speaking, that is, not otherwise. But I would invite the speakers to
respond and also to quiz each other if they wish to do so on the same
I have first Dr. Gómez-Lobo, followed by Dr. Hurlbut and
then others as you show and manifest your sign that you wish to
DR. GÓMEZ-LOBO: I wanted to ask an information
question because I'm a bit worried from an ethical point of
view about the notion of, say, doing something for which the vast
majority of people would not be giving informed consent, if I understood
correctly. Many parents would not be even asked apparently, and
those who were asked apparently comply very, very quickly.
I'm among those parents, too , who rapidly comply to
whatever they tell me, but the problem I see is this. Do you see any
pressure to go from newborn screening to preimplantation diagnosis? In
other words, isn't there here a monster that we might suddenly find
ourselves with a program that screens embryos before they're
implanted? Well, we can imagine what would happen with that.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: I presume that's directed to
either of the speakers.
DR. BOTKIN: Well, that's a great question, and I think
there has not been a whole lot of attention to the interface between
newborn screening and prenatal diagnosis, and they're clearly
avenues of information that are important there.
Oftentimes newborn screening will pick up carrier infants,
meaning the parents are carriers, and that can provide some
reproductive information for them. It may then indicate that the child
will be at risk for adverse pregnancy outcome 20, 30 years later when
he or she has a baby, and so there's those sorts of issues.
I have not seen anybody explicitly talk about tests that
might be implemented in a newborn screening program, particularly if
they become DNA based, translate that back to pre-implantation genetic
diagnosis platform, although I don't see any reason why from a
technical perspective you couldn't do that.
Presumably you'd have to have a different set of
criteria for what tests you might apply in those contexts, but
you'd have to — from a technical perspective it seems quite
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Watson.
DR. WATSON: Yes, I think it's feasible, but I
haven't seen much evidence. I directed prenatal diagnostics at
Washington University for 17 years before I moved to the job I'm
currently in, and from my own experience in that, as treatments become
available, people don't tend to move back to reproductive decision
making. When there is an expected good outcome from having been
identified at birth, they tend more toward the side of going down
newborn screening and appropriate management and treatment.
One thing that will become apparent though, I think, in
broad analyses of conditions as to whether or not they are appropriate
for newborn screening is if they're not and it's because there
is no treatment in the outcome and burden are huge that will actually
be defining the conditions that are probably — that many would
consider appropriate in a prenatal diagnostic environment, in which
everything from CVS to amniocentesis to PGD is an option.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Hurlbut.
PROF. HURLBUT: First a comment and then a question. I have
a vague apprehension about this whole thing of screening because as a
physician it feels as though the emphasis is increasingly likely to be
put on detecting things rather than curing things. Now, I know that
it's a very good thing to make your diagnosis early in a lot of
conditions, but you could easily get the situation where you're
spending an awful lot of the health care dollar screening for things
rather than working toward cures, and I think what was implicit in
Alfonso's question was the question of whether this will translate
into what Leon Kass has called curing the disease by preventing the
I'd just like you to reflect backwards on the prenatal
screening a little bit, but my comment really spreads a little wider
because I was talking with a woman recently who was prenatally
screened, and she said that the prenatal screening put her under the
pressure of a huge amount of anxiety while she was pregnant, and even
after the tests came back okay, as you said about those with false
positives, there's something funny in this.
As a physician I feel it. Well, that's a broad
question, I realize, and a very vague question, but my specific
question is you mentioned the potential with DNA arrays and so forth to
screen the entire genome. I was talking to a venture capitalist the
other day who said that now there seems to be a technology for $1,000
to screen all six billion base pairs.
And we're going to be looking at commercialization of that
and all of the dangers that come with people being encouraged to
do things that they don't understand, and my big question is
are you thinking about making negative recommendations in the broad
front on that.
But before you get to that, would you comment a little bit
on the statistical nature of these findings? A lot of the concordance
between identical twins, for example, is surprisingly low in a lot of
gene expression patterns, and we have an overblown notion of genetic
determinism in our society, and you can see that as an equation for an
awful lot of social disruption that isn't just anxiety provoking,
but would influence therapeutic decisions, educational decisions and
even just attitudes toward your children.
DR. WATSON: Well, that's an easy question.
DR. WATSON: I'll start with the first one. I
don't think screening is actually at the expense of finding the
cure. In fact, to consider screening, at least newborn screening, one
has the cure in place or the treatment in place that makes that
significant difference at least in our current, you know, value system
about the criteria and the magnitude of improvement.
PROF. HURLBUT: I guess I was really thinking more of
prenatal screening because there was a recommendation from some
scientists at UC-SF about a year ago saying that all women, not just
after age 35, ought to have prenatal screening. Think of the amount of
money that will cost and increasingly even the March of Dimes is
speaking in terms of preventing disease by prenatal screening and the
implicit endorsement of abortion.
Something seems a little askew in all of that to me.
DR. WATSON: You know, I think certainly in genetics,
I think genetics has made a relatively small proportional contribution
to terminations in the United States. And I think that certainly
it has arisen around those — I mean, it's sort of the way you
find out about genetics in a family. There is prenatal screening
of the type that's done for Down's Syndrome, where people's
decisions are changing, you know, over time as to how they think
about having a child with Down's syndrome, but the vast majority
has been very severe disease, commonly found in an individual in
the family, often in the pediatric setting, often lethal, and much
of prenatal has been those kinds of conditions where families are
making decisions based on what has happened in a prior pregnancy.
That works, not prenatal in and of itself, but that kind of
detection works best the rarer that the disease is because the rarer it
is, the more likely that the carriers are within that family and not
everywhere else. So it's an effective way of identifying people
and then clearly you provide information to people about what you know
about the range of expressions of that condition.
Your question on arrays is actually not — there's some
underlying issues around arrays, I think — that make different
kinds of arrays different. A sequencing array would be the nightmare
of all time for prenatal screening, newborn screening, medicine
in the hands of people who don't really understand them.
If you look at the cystic fibrosis gene, roughly 90 percent
of patients with a mutation have one or the more common ones that is
reasonably well understood. Ten percent of patients with cystic
fibrosis have a mutation that's private or rare in their family.
Initially on identification it was was unknown sequence variation, and
a lot of other analysis was done to say, "Okay. This is probably
pathological because of its distribution in the family and other
evidence about the domain of the gene in which the mutation may have
You let unknown sequence variation loose on people and it's
going to be a nightmare. But arrays can also be highly targeted
at specific mutations, and in that sense, you know, they do begin
to move their way into this discussion, and I think it is very much
complicated by what we've alluded to as that variable expression
of many of the mutations. They operate on a background, and those
genetic backgrounds are not identical in the population, and that
contributes a lot to the variable expressivity of the conditions.
But New York State is currently beginning to test Affymetrix arrays
for hearing loss. If you take hearing loss, it's about 117
genes with a lot of different mutations in many of those genes.
If you take the panel and the secondary conditions that we recommended,
that's about 155 genes' worth of conditions, many with a
wide distribution of mutations across the genes.
So, you know, at least it's a more tractable issue there where
you're targeting something. You have a lot of the clinical
questions about the targets, but as long as we have more functional
kinds of assays. In hearing loss, we test to see if they can hear.
We don't test them for that wide range of mutations.
So the further we step back from the functional expression
of the gene to the gene itself, I think more and more issues get sort
of overlaid on the problem.
DR. BOTKIN: A couple of quick responses. I do think that
there's competition between money that's going into this
screening enterprise from the care enterprise, and you know, looking at
the larger picture of newborn screening I personally would have been
much happier had all states been screening for six things, but yet
there were additional resources going into the other components of the
Utah is an excellent example, and I think many states. For
many years, the insurance regulations within the states did not require
insurers to cover foods. Insurers considered PKU diets and formulas to
be food. So many families struggled terribly to try to maintain their
kids on the appropriate diet.
Well, we passed legislation, the state did, a couple of
years ago to require that. It's now back at the legislature this
year with the insurance lobby saying we don't think that we ought
to be required to provide these foods. Well, that's the nature of
the intervention for many of these conditions, is dietary manipulation,
and if those are off the table for support, then the whole system is
going to collapse. It doesn't matter how good the test is. It
doesn't matter what the positive predictive value is. If families
can't afford the food, then the system doesn't work.
So I think more attention to those larger aspects of the system,
I think, may be at the expense now of significantly expanding the
number of tests rather than the quality of the service, and I just
would comment, too, that I think that what we're seeing in a
lot of different domains is a large volume of genetic information
that is coming into some very narrow funnels in terms of the clinicians
being able to manage and handle and think through that kind of information,
and people have to develop criteria in this context and other contexts
about what's the minimal criterion for allowing information
to flow through, and if it's satisfaction, people want to know,
then that's pretty low level, but folks will be happy to provide
that kind of information and vendors will be happy to sell that
kind of information and so it becomes problematic then to step back
and say, "Okay. We're going to have some clear criteria,
and even though we've got information, we're not going to
allow it through that funnel."
That's a significant social challenge that's
occurring, I think, across the range of genetic testing right now.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Rowley.
DR. ROWLEY: Well, I want to make one comment and then ask
two questions. The comment is that use of the Guthrie cards at least
in Europe are saved for a long period of time, have been very important
in understanding that for infants and children with leukemia, the
leukemia has often started in utero, and you can find the same genetic
abnormality that you find in the leukemia cells in a two, three or five
year old in DNA in the Guthrie cards.
So unfortunately, many states, Illinois being one of them, throws
them away after two or three months so that you can't do those
kind of studies. So they have a scientific benefit that nobody
So the questions I have, one of which is related to the
comments that both of you made about the insensitivity or the high rate
of false positives in some tests, and then the variability among
states, and, Mike, you indicated that at least that latter variability
might at least be ameliorated somewhat by better tests or better
national standards, and I think that that's good, but if 98 percent
of the tests are false in one sense, that's a very grave concern.
The second is a different issue, and it more relates to the
fact that as you may be aware, the Council has looked on many different
issues related to children, child health, and the bioethical issues in
the different arenas, and I would be curious.
If you look at all of the aspects that the Council has
considered, is a concern over the problem of genetic testing of
sufficient national ethical proportions that the Council should take
this on as a major issue, or is this something that in the broader
perspective of child health issues is something that it's important
that we be aware of, but not that we focus on in a major way?
DR. WATSON: That's interrogation.
Well, on the latter point about genetics broadly, I would
say that it ain't all the same thing. Diagnostic applications of
genetics I don't think have many of the issues that you allude to,
but as you move out of dealing with patients and families, you do begin
to collide with the kinds of issues that I think are of interest to
Carrier screening is an area that is expanding rapidly in
the United States. This is broadly offered to individuals or the
entire population. Cystic fibrosis carrier screening is being offered
to everyone during pregnancy now. If you're from an Ashkenazum
background, you're being offered, you know, probably 11 mutations
from six or seven genes in a screening test where your risk is anywhere
from one in 29 of being a carrier to one in maybe 80 or so for many of
And you know, it's a lot like newborn screening. You
start at a certain place, and then you begin to wonder about the cost
benefit. If that sets your threshold, you know, there's a reason
neither Jeff nor I talked about cost benefit studies in newborn
screening. Well, it's because they're not. They're
extremely limited, and those I've seen have almost never
acknowledged the genetic aspect of it, which is not just the individual
you identify. It's also that whole family now, and it's
possible considerations of prenatal diagnostics, almost never factored
into any cost analysis of newborn screening. I think it needs to be
acknowledged in those kinds of things, but it hasn't been.
You think about the quality adjusted life year measure as
sort of a standard of when you should do something or not in a
screening environment. Well, $50,000 in a ECHO in the hospital is
sort of the line, and most of these beat the heck out of that. So it
becomes very difficult, you know, especially when you start with
something like CF in carrier screening.
I can't think of a worst place to have started in
carrier screening, but it was imposed by an NIH consensus conference
that said, "Let's go do this." So we tried to make sure
it would at least be done appropriately.
I don't know if that got at all of yours. Did you
start with — oh, the cards themselves? They're tremendous
DR. ROWLEY: No, but the other was the variability in tests
and what could we do to make sure that we really have the best possible
test, which is a moving field so that those kind of regulations also
DR. WATSON: Yeah, my feeling about the tests
themselves is that the best way to do it is to shine a light on
it. If there is that disparity and at this point in time we have
nothing that allows us really to say State A is doing better than
State B, and you know, at the end of the day, who really is impacted
and will be influenced to make the change?
Well, a lot of false positives obviously impact physicians
because they have to manage this, and they impact the families, but I
think the physicians may be in the best place. Once they begin to
appreciate a standard, and this is what we did in the oncology groups,
as you know, we raised the standard. We said, "We expect you to
be detecting 70 percent of patients with ALL, for instance, in a
cytogenetic test." That's not out there in newborn screening
yet where they're told that we expect this to operate at this
The states are very independent in the tests they choose to
use and the standard they establish for that test. There's
programs developing through the National Newborn Screening and Genetic
Resource Center to collect this data and allow some comparison so that
presumably evidence of great disparity would drive many of those to
improve their programs.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Botkin.
DR. BOTKIN: The saving of samples, you know, this is just
such an enormously valuable potential resource, and I know Utah is one
of the states that saves them for the least amount of time, which is
three months, and it's a liability issue. They say that they save
the sample long enough to confirm the diagnosis. If there's a
sample that needs to be retested, fine, but beyond that, they think
that liability for retaining those samples longer.
We're trying to convince them otherwise, but the other
hobbling factor with that resource is the fact that they were obtained
without consent. So that may mean then that according to at least a
number of national recommendations they shouldn't be used without
individual permission. Well, that's a pretty serious limiting
So I think additional thought needs to be gone into how
these can be used in a creative research enterprise without the
constraints of an individual consent process, and I think that's
And then I think your question about whether this is
something that the Council itself would — well, whether all of us
would benefit from the Council taking a look at it perhaps is the right
way to look at it, and I guess my short answer would be I don't
think newborn screening per se, but I think the larger issues that are
coming down the pike in terms of the amount of genetic information, the
information that's being generated both through sort of public
health as well as commercial sources and how to manage that information
in an appropriate way so that there's a fair amount of confidence
that that's likely to benefit people at the other end of that
pipeline seems to me could be a very beneficial enterprise.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Meilaender.
PROF. MEILAENDER: Two just sort of focused questions.
I'd be interested to know to what degree the two of you agree or
disagree in your analysis. One has to do with this rapid increase in
that both of your presentations, though configured slightly
differently, showed an increase in newborn screening. Just sort of
what your view is and what's driving that.
I mean, it seemed in part to be or somebody talked about
parents as a kind of consumer movement here, that sort of desire.
There's also just the technology in the sense that you become
capable of doing something and you want to do it. Maybe there's
some state envy at work. I don't know.
But if it's technology and parent pressure, which of
these seems more important? I mean if there really is this parent
pressure, it's kind of surprising that there doesn't seem to
have been the same pressure for parents to give consent or permission.
So just say a little more about your own view about
what's driving this increase, and then the second, I mean, I
don't know if this can be easily answered, but would universal and
uniform newborn screening that eliminated these differences among
states be a qualified good?
I mean, I can see certain data collection and so forth that
I can understand, but are there benefits to be gained from this sort of
somewhat more hodge-podge kind of way that we have it, or would it just
be better if that didn't exist any longer?
DR. BOTKIN: Well, great questions, and I think what's
driving the increase in the number of tests, and I think you probably
mentioned all of the things that I would identify as etiologies. I
think there's a strong social attitude that screening is a good
thing, and I see it in the paper every morning with the body scanners.
You know, spend 600 bucks. Detect disease early and save your life.
Well, there's no data to support any of that, but
it's part of the social consciousness now, and I think how
that's translated into newborn screening is the strong sense that
if you've got five tests, that's good. If you've got 20
tests, that's really terrific, and any self-respecting state, you
know, should not have less than 40 tests on its panel.
In fact, there was a senior pediatrician in Utah who
literally at a public meeting said, "You know, I'm concerned
that businesses will not relocate to Utah because we don't have
enough tests on our newborn screening panel."
DR. BOTKIN: Well, that's how to get the
legislature's attention on this kind of thing. So I think it's
that aspect and sort of the social receptiveness to the whole idea that
screening works when we know in most circumstances it doesn't.
There's peer pressure, the technology, and then I think
some of the lay pressures that are emerging also with lawsuits about
this kind of thing are sort of all part of that general picture that,
again, any self-respecting state ought to have a whole bunch of tests
to be done.
The variation issue I think is a very interesting question
that, you know, I've sort of struggled with, too. I see it as a
good in terms of a natural experiment in which if there is variation
then you can actually compare the outcome of one state that screens to
another state that doesn't screen.
Now, you've got cohort comparison problems there that
would need to be dealt with, but at least it's a way of getting
around the randomized control problem that bedevils a lot of the basic
research in this particular area.
So it's good in that respect. Whether it's sort of
good with respect to ethnic make-ups, racial make-ups within states, I
think that's a harder question. Utah did not screen for
hemoglobinopathies for many years because we have less than one percent
of the population that's African American. Well, is that justified
I think a lot of folks eventually decided it wasn't
justified in particular because lots of other folks, too, have
hemoglobinopathy problems, but I mean, you can push that sort of
question. If you've got a genetic condition that is almost
exclusively within, say, the Hmoung population, and Minnesota has a
Hmoung population, but Utah has none, what does that mean in terms of
Utah's obligation to provide population screening for that
Well, that doesn't seem to make sense. So I think
there's some boundaries that have to do with social justice issues
as well as prevalence that are important.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you very much, Dr.
SESSION 7: PUBLIC COMMENTS
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: We've reached the time
for comment. We have one person who has requested the floor, Ms.
Susan Poland. Before doing that, I thank once again our two presenters,
their being with us and sharing their wisdom, also for being so
wonderfully obedient to my request for precision and doing it so
MS. Poland: This will be short because I don't
have a good voice, but I was struck when you were talking about
the state liability holding the Guthrie blood spots. One of the
meetings I had gone to in this past few months was the Secretary's
Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health, and Society, and Francis
Collins was there talking about a new initiative from the National
Human Genome Research Institute of creating a large resource of
hundreds of thousands of people getting their DNA and going out.
They were talking about also the expense of going out to
get informed consent from these people and the whole bit, and it dawned
on me while I was there you've got these newborns being screened,
and you can get their DNA. So why not relieve the states of the
liability and have a federal repository where after three months or
whatever, they just send them off.
To me the only problem would be anonymization and duty to
recontact that would make it extremely expensive. And while the
initial newborn screening may help the newborns then that get the
screening, the long-term resource where they can then have studies be
anonymized will actually help them probably when they're adults or
That's my only comment. I just want this group to be
aware what that group is working on.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you, and we might respond.
DR. ROWLEY: Can I respond? The problem with anonymizing
specimens is that there's no way to go back to the family and give
them that information. So if you're going to go to that kind of
effort, then you have to have a way to put that into the context of the
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Can I respond?
DR. ROWLEY: And obviously with privacy, et cetera, but
we're doing this in other conditions where there is genomic
testing, and you find a mutation. You then can go back and find out
about the family history or the response to treatment of a cancer, et
MS. Poland: Dr. Rowley, I thought of that, too,
and I thought it's actually part of what you all were saying
is a system. It initiates a system. It becomes part of a resource,
and then it's incumbent upon the doctors that are seeing these
children or the parents or whatever to monitor the system to then
inform. It's part of the continuing care. It goes through
a step rather than go up a step and then back, if you follow that.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you.
I have another request for comment. The time is short, and that's
why I'm moving this along. Michelle Lloyd-Puryear — I hope
I pronounced that correctly — Chief of the Genetic Services Branch
of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.
MS. Lloyd-Puryear: Thank you.
And I'm just inviting you to come to the Advisory
Committee on Inheritable Disorders and Genetic Diseases in Newborns and
Children, who is actually overseeing many of the issues that you're
talking about around screening for newborns and children.
I'm the Executive Secretary. So you have my contact
information. So any of the concerns you have, focus concerns, come to
us and we'd be glad to discuss them with you and certainly the
committee would be glad to discuss any of the issues with you.
DR. ROWLEY: Can I ask for a point of information? Because
two or three or four years ago there was a proposal, and I think
through your institute of trying to do a major study of collecting DNA
in both children as they're born and in young and families and
trying to do a broadly based genomic screening study. It's my
impression that because of the size and the complexity and the lack of
agreement amongst various participants that that proposal has not yet
seen the light of day in terms of actually becoming a functional study.
Ms. Lloyd-Puryear: I'm at the Health Resources
and Services Administration. You're talking about an NIH study.
DR. ROWLEY: Right.
Ms. Lloyd-Puryear: And you're right about
that, the National Children's Study.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Yes, Dr. Botkin.
DR. BOTKIN: Yes, a little bit of information.
That study is up and running to the extent that there are seven
or eight vanguard centers around the country that have been named.
There is a protocol that is being developed, and the plan is to
follow 100,000 kids for 20 years, including DNA acquisition early
on and a variety of tests with some tissue banking.
And so it is a monumental study that remains to be fully
funded by Congress at this point.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Any other comments?
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Well, thank you all very much for
your attendance, particularly the Council members.
(Whereupon, at 11:51 a.m., the meeting was adjourned.)