Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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Biochemical testing for inborn errors of metabolism: experience from a large tertiary neonatal centre

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posted on 2024-06-11, 16:11 authored by Esme Dunne, Daniel O'Reilly, Claire Murphy, Caoimhe Howard, Grainne Kelleher, Thomas Suttie, Michael BoyleMichael Boyle, Jennifer J Brady, Ina Knerr, Afif El KhuffashAfif El Khuffash

Inborn errors of metabolism are an individually rare but collectively significant cause of mortality and morbidity in the neonatal period. They are identified by either newborn screening programmes or clinician-initiated targeted biochemical screening. This study examines the relative contribution of these two methods to the identification of inborn errors of metabolism and describes the incidence of these conditions in a large, tertiary, neonatal unit. We also examined which factors could impact the reliability of metabolic testing in this cohort. This is a retrospective, single-site study examining infants in whom a targeted metabolic investigation was performed from January 2018 to December 2020 inclusive. Data was also provided by the national newborn screening laboratory regarding newborn screening diagnoses. Two hundred and four newborns received a clinician-initiated metabolic screen during the time period examined with 5 newborns being diagnosed with an inborn error of metabolism (IEM) (2.4%). Of the 25,240 infants born in the hospital during the period examined, a further 11 newborns had an inborn error of metabolism diagnosed on newborn screening. This produced an incidence in our unit over the time described of 6.34 per 10,000 births. This number reflects a minimum estimate, given that the conditions diagnosed refer to early-onset disorders and distinctive categories of IEM only. Efficiency of the clinician-initiated metabolic screening process was also examined. The only statistically significant variable in requiring repeat metabolic screening was early day of life (z-score = − 2.58, p = 0.0098). A total of 28.4% was missing one of three key metabolic investigation parameters of blood glucose, ammonia or lactate concentration with ammonia the most common investigation missing. While hypoglycemia was the most common clinical rationale for a clinician-initiated metabolic test, it was a poor predictor of inborn error of metabolism with no newborns of 25 screened were diagnosed with a metabolic disorder. Conclusion: Clinician-targeted metabolic screening had a high diagnostic yield given the relatively low prevalence of inborn errors of metabolism in the general population. Thoughts should be given to the rationale behind each targeted metabolic test and what specific metabolic disease or category of inborn error of metabolism they are concerned along with commencing targeted testing.

What is Known:

• Inborn errors of metabolism are a rare but potentially treatable cause of newborn mortality and morbidity.

• A previous study conducted in a tertiary unit in an area with limited newborn screening demonstrated a diagnostic yield of 5.4%.

What is New:

• Clinician-initiated targeted metabolic screening has a good diagnostic performance even with a more expanded newborn screening programme.

• Further optimisation could be achieved by examining the best timing and also the rationale of metabolic testing in the newborn period.


Open Access funding provided by the IReL Consortium

Temple Street Foundation/Children’s Health Foundation (CHF), Dublin, for local support (RPAC 1902/1903)

Health Service Executive

National Doctors Training and Planning

Health and Social Care, Research and Development Division, Northern Ireland

Wellcome – Health Research Board Irish Clinical Academic Training Programme (ICAT)

Wellcome Trust

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Data Availability Statement

Data will be made available on request.


The original article is available at

Published Citation

Dunne E, et al. Biochemical testing for inborn errors of metabolism: experience from a large tertiary neonatal centre. Eur J Pediatr. 2022;181(10):3725-3732.

Publication Date

10 August 2022

PubMed ID



  • Paediatrics

Research Area

  • Gynaecology, Obstetrics and Perinatal Health
  • Vascular Biology
  • Health Professions Education


Springer Nature


  • Published Version (Version of Record)