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Vainieri Huttle, Timberlake, Mosquera Bill Requiring Newborn Infant Screening for Spinal Muscular Atrophy Clears Assembly Panel

Recognizing that early diagnosis can serve as the best treatment defense, a bill that would require newborn infants to be screened for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) was approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee Thursday.

The measure is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic) and Gabriela Mosquera (D-Camden, Gloucester).

“Although SMA symptoms can manifest in late childhood or in rare instances, adulthood, they typically appear in the first six months of life,” said Huttle. “This makes testing for newborns critical.”

The legislation (A-3040) calls for infants to be tested for the genetic markers associated with SMA–a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is caused by abnormally functioning motor neurons that control voluntary movement, such as walking, talking, and swallowing, and leads to progressive muscle weakness and atrophy.

“When newborns are tested for this disease, it increases the likelihood that they can be diagnosed and treated before becoming symptomatic,” said Timberlake. ‘This can lead to a more successful treatment outcome.”

Individuals with the most common form of SMA typically have a lifespan of less than two years. Approximately one in 50 Americans is a carrier of the disease.  Approximately 165,889 people in New Jersey are SMA carriers and 304 are currently living with the disease. An estimated nine babies are born with SMA each year.

“This bill can help lead to successful treatment and a healthier child,” said Mosquera, who will be giving birth to her second baby in days. “If it can make the difference between a shorter life span and a longer one, it definitely is a measure that needs our support.”

The bill is now poised for a vote by the full Assembly.