NHSE develops bedside genetic test to help prevent deafness in babies

NHS England has developed and piloted a ‘world-first’ genetic test that could save the hearing of hundreds of babies each year, the organisation says. 

The bedside machine works by identifying whether a critically ill baby admitted to intensive care has a gene that could result in permanent hearing loss if treated with a common emergency antibiotic – known as Gentamicin.  

The new swab technique – which can be successfully employed within 25 minutes – would replace a test that NHSE says traditionally took days to complete. 

According to NHS England, the genetic test means babies found to have the genetic variant can be given an alternative antibiotic within the ‘golden hour,’ which could save the NHS £5 million a year by reducing the need for hearing interventions, such as cochlear implants.  

Stephen Powis, National Medical Director, commented: “The successful trial of this bedside test is fantastic news for the hundreds of babies – and their parents – who would otherwise lose their hearing when given this common antibiotic in intensive care situations. 

“Through world-class innovation, the NHS is delivering cutting edge treatments to save and improve patients’ lives as well as delivering on the commitments of the NHS Long Term Plan.” 

Professor Dame Sue Hill, Chief Scientific Officer for England and Senior Responsible Officer for Genomics, added: “Genomic medicine is transforming healthcare, and this is a powerful example of how genetic testing can now be done extremely quickly and become a vital part of triage – not only in intensive care but across our services.

“It also shows the importance of thinking about how advances in technology can rapidly transform how we use genomics closer to care for our patients.” 

In other NHS-related news, NHS England has shared its’ five-year autism research strategy and has rolled-out its Spring COVID vaccination programme for people aged 75 and over.