At-Home Testing Can Help Prevent Jewish Genetic Diseases

Advances in technology are making genetic testing more readily available to the public—and some tests can even be done in the privacy of home.

People of Jewish lineage are at increased risk for passing on certain genetic diseases to their children, but a new public health initiative can help them understand their odds. The nonprofit JScreen program, managed by the Emory School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics, provides at-home genetic screening and private counseling for Jewish people to determine their risk.

Geneticists have identified markers for nineteen genetic diseases that are more common in the Jewish-Ashkenazi community, including Tay-Sachs and Canavan disease. The carriers are healthy, but they can pass the diseases along to their children. JScreen also offers an expanded panel, useful for couples of mixed descent and interfaith couples, which screens for a total of eighty diseases.

“By leveraging advances in genetic testing and online education that allow people to be screened in the comfort of their homes, we are removing barriers to allow more people to be screened,” says Patricia Zartman Page, JScreen senior director.

How It Works

  1. Visit the JScreen website to register to receive a JScreen genetic testing kit. Most people pay no more than $99 with health insurance; the cost is $599 without insurance. Financial assistance is available.
  2. Use the "DNA spit kit" to provide a saliva sample for testing. The process takes about two to five minutes.
  3. Follow the simple instructions to place the saliva tube in the packaging provided; the mailer is prepaid. It's off to the lab for analysis.

Lab technicians and genetic counselors analyze DNA kit results within four weeks, and the Emory genetic counseling team will notify you when results are ready. If you’re identified as a carrier for any of the diseases, you must participate in genetic counseling follow-up by telephone. In some cases, additional genetic counseling may be recommended.

Genetic counseling professionals can help couples plan, prepare, and minimize risk of inherited diseases for their families.

“Most of the time, we are able to reassure couples that their future children are not at increased risk for these devastating diseases,” says Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, JScreen senior director. “When we do find a carrier couple, we offer a variety of options to help them have healthy children. Without screening, the couples would not have known they were at risk.”

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