BRANDON – Geneticists have determined that people of Jewish heritage, particularly Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern or Central European descent, are more likely than people of other backgrounds to carry genes that can cause certain diseases or syndromes, such as Gaucher disease type 1, Tay-Sachs disease, familial dysautonomia and cystic fibrosis.
The Victor Center, Miami Children’s Hospital, estimates that one out of four Jews may carry at least one of 19 Jewish genetic diseases, and that if both parents are carriers, there is a 25 percent chance any child they conceive may be affected.
The center recommends a 19-disease blood test for Jewish men and women of child-bearing age who have at least one grandparent of Ashkenazi heritage. Jews, regardless of sexual orientation, who are considering donating egg or sperm toward a future pregnancy, also are encouraged to be screened.
Testing before pregnancy occurs is preferable, because it gives people more options, according to the Victor Center website. Those may include not marrying someone who is a carrier, choosing not to have children, adopting, performing in vitro fertilization (after which only healthy embryos are implanted in the mother) or using a sperm or egg donor who does not carry the disease the partner does.
In contrast, after a child is conceived, prenatal testing can show if the child has a disease for which a parent is a carrier, limiting alternatives to continuing the pregnancy (treating the child’s condition in utero if possible or preparing the family to care for an affected child) or aborting it.
“The great advances in technology allow us a unique opportunity to learn about our genetic makeup and the particular issues faced by Jews,” said Rabbi Betsy Torop of Congregation Beth Shalom of Brandon. “This information is valuable and potentially lifesaving; we welcome the opportunity to educate the community about this critical health issue.”