R. Rodney Howell — respected geneticist, pediatrician and chairman of the MDA Board of Directors — has been honored by the March of Dimes for playing a key role in developing the uniform panel of serious disorders for which nearly every baby in the United States now is tested.
Howell was given the March of Dimes Col. Harland D. Sanders Lifetime Achievement Award in Genetics on March 20, at the American College of Medical Genetics annual meeting in Phoenix. The award is given to individuals whose lifetime body of research and education has significantly contributed to the genetic sciences. (The nonprofit March of Dimes is dedicated to improving infant health by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.)
“Newborn screening saves babies’ lives and gives thousands each year a chance for healthy development,” said Joe Leigh Simpson, March of Dimes senior vice president of research and global programs, in presenting the award. “Dr. Howell has a unique ability to translate research findings into medical practice that helps give every baby a chance at a healthy start in life.”
Howell played a leadership role in the creation of the core list of newborn screening tests for genetic or functional conditions that can be devastating to a child’s health if not detected early. In many cases, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or lessen the severity of these conditions. Today, these screening tests are administered to almost all babies born in the U.S.
Howell is currently working with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and other patient advocacy communities to look into whether Duchenne muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy should be added to the recommended uniform panel of diseases for newborn screening, based on encouraging therapy development in those diseases. He also has been involved in discussions about the addition of Pompe disease to the panel, thanks to the development of enzyme replacement therapy to treat that disorder.
“As a direct result of the expertise, advocacy, leadership and dedication of Dr. Rod Howell, thousands of babies now live to have happy, healthy childhoods who previously would have died from undetected congenital-onset conditions," said MDA President and CEO Steven M. Derks. “MDA is deeply grateful for his leadership over the years and couldn’t be more pleased that our chair has been deservedly singled out for this prestigious award recognizing his significant and lasting contributions to the health and quality of life of our nation’s children.”
About R. Rodney Howell
Howell is currently professor of pediatrics and chair emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, and has served as president of the American College of Genetics and Genomics, and later as president of its foundation.
He also has served as senior adviser to the director at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and was the founding chair of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee of Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children (SACHDNC).
Author of more than 175 scientific articles and books, Howell has served on MDA’s Board since 1994 and also chaired its Scientific Advisory Committee.
In April 2012, he received the American College of Medical Genetics Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his advocacy for children and leadership in the development and advancement of newborn screening.