Commonwealth Medicine’s Newborn Screening program director recognized for lifetime achievement

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Roger B. Eaton, PhD, director of the New England Newborn Screening Program (NENSP), an initiative of UMass Chan Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division, is the 2021 recipient of the Harry Hannon Laboratory Improvement Award in Newborn Screening, a prestigious international tribute.

The Hannon Award is presented annually at the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) newborn screening symposium to a person judged by a selection committee to have made significant contributions to improving the quality of laboratory results for the newborn screening system. 

“It is most fitting that Roger receives this prominent award, named for a pioneer in newborn screening, Dr. Harry Hannon,” noted Commonwealth Medicine Executive Vice Chancellor Lisa M. Colombo, DNP, MHA, RN. “Roger is a trailblazer as well, and under his leadership of NENSP beginning in 1998, he has advanced our program through innovative thinking and an unwavering commitment to health, resulting in fast and reliable laboratory screening so newborns with treatable disorders can receive immediate and effective care. All of us at Commonwealth Medicine are proud to be Roger’s colleagues and offer our congratulations to him for this well-earned recognition.”

Dr. Eaton is responsible for developing NENSP policies, long-range goals, and R&D priorities, as well as laboratory quality assurance activities, implementation and use of new technologies, and data system development. Under his two decades of leadership, NENSP became one of the first state-mandated programs to apply tandem mass spectrometry for screening and has introduced screens for severe combined immunodeficiency, spinal muscular atrophy, and many other diseases and disorders.  

“I am humbled and honored to receive this award,” said Dr. Eaton. “Many thanks to the nomination and selection committees and my colleagues at the New England Newborn Screening Program. I observe the commitment and dedication of this team in action every day, and this recognition reflects their efforts to help babies get the best start possible.”

“Everyone in the New England Newborn Screening Program is delighted that Roger’s hard work and leadership is being recognized with this award,” said NENSP Deputy Director Anne Marie Comeau, PhD. “Dr. Inderneel Sahai and I have been attending these symposia over the years and we know well that the competition is stiff across the nation because there are so many dedicated professionals in this field. Roger has ensured the high quality of our program with his keen scientific mind and his determination to bring out the best among all the professionals at the New England Newborn Screening Program. We are very fortunate to work with him. “

Commonwealth Medicine’s NENSP provides screening services to five states and three countries, helping to identify newborns for immediate treatment to prevent mental and physical disabilities, serious illness, or even death. The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to these operations, but Dr. Eaton’s leadership led to the successful launch of a new laboratory information management system in January 2020 – just before the worldwide lockdown – ensuring that the NENSP team could monitor screening remotely and report urgent abnormal results in real-time.

“With Roger’s innovation, newborns with immediate life-threatening disorders were diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion,” said NENSP Clinical Data Liaison Caroline Nucup-Villaruz, MD. “Roger’s exemplary leadership remained steadfast in its commitment to newborn screening and quite deserving of the Harry Hannon award recognition.”

Dr. Eaton is also an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UMass Chan Medical School. He has authored or co-authored articles on subjects relevant to newborn screening, such as long-term follow-up for individuals diagnosed with newborn screening conditions or the effects of expanded newborn screening for biochemical genetic disorders. A member of the International Society of Newborn Screening as well as APHL, he has served on a range of national and international workgroups and is an invited expert at national conferences dedicated to newborn testing, screening, and operations planning.