WP Professor Rahi Abouk Receives Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Prestigious Charles C. Shepard Science Award

Rahi Abouk

Rahi Abouk, William Paterson University health economics professor, received the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Charles C. Shepard Science Award in the Prevention and Control Category for his research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Abouk was the lead author for the study titled “Association of U.S. State Implementation of Newborn Screening Policies for Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD) with Early Infant Cardiac Deaths.”

Abouk and his research colleagues received the award for helping to prevent and control an important challenge to public health. Each year, the director of the CDC calls for nominations for the Charles C. Shepard Science Award and candidates are nominated by their colleagues. Winners are selected by a committee based on scientific merit and impact on public health.

“In this study, we show that a relatively simple screening test can save from 300 to 400 lives of newborns annually,” says Abouk, associate professor in the University’s Cotsakos College of Business. “This becomes even more important when we know the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is higher compared to other developed countries. Every year more than 20,000 newborns die in our country.”

Established in 1986, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Charles C. Shepard Science Award was named in honor of Dr. Charles C. Shepard, MD, the internationally recognized microbiologist who was chief of the Leprosy and Rickettsia Branch at CDC for more than 30 years, until his death on February 18, 1985. For scientific publications, the award is presented to the best manuscript on original research published by a CDC or ATSDR scientist in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal. Link to CDC awards: https://www.cdc.gov/od/science/aboutus/shepard/winners/index.html

Abouk and three colleagues set out to investigate whether mandatory state newborn screening policies for critical congenital heart disease using pulse oximetry was associated with a decrease in infant cardiac deaths.

Congenital heart disease accounted for 6 percent of U.S. infant deaths from 1999 to 2006. In 2011, critical congenital heart disease was added to the U.S. Recommended Uniform Screening Panel for newborns but until this study it was not known if the policy requiring screening for the most serious defects was associated with lower infant death rates.

In 2011, most states implemented policies recommending or requiring screening. As of August 9, 2016, 48 states had either enacted legislation or adopted regulations relating to pulse oximetry screening of newborns. New Jersey was one of the first states to require this screening in September 2011.

The study was conducted as an observational study on infants born between 2007 and 2013, which included approximately 27 million U.S. births. Results showed a decrease in estimated infant cardiac death rates for states that implemented the mandatory screening policies compared to states that did not.

The researchers concluded that statewide implementation of mandatory policies for newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease was associated with a significant decrease in infant cardiac deaths between 2007 and 2013 compared with states without these policies.

Link to full research article: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/10.1001/jama.2017.17627