May 24, 2024
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JScreen Modernizes Genetic Screening for Jewish Couples of All Denominations

If you haven’t heard of JScreen, you soon will. Taking the Jewish community by storm, JScreen is working with synagogues and major organizations around the country to bring its innovative model for genetic screening right to your front door.

A national effort based out of Emory University’s Department of Human Genetics, the JScreen genetic screening program is the first of its kind. It can be used to test for over 100 different genetic conditions, with an easy and convenient at-home saliva test. This can help anyone thinking about a starting a family know if he or she is a carrier for genetic conditions such as Tay-Sachs disease, familial dysautonomia and cystic fibrosis.

It’s estimated that 80 percent of children with a serious genetic disease are born to parents with no known family history for the disease, making JScreen important for anyone planning to start or grow their family. By educating and creating awareness around the importance of Jewish genetic disease screening, JScreen has seen immense interest throughout the country.

JScreen is leading the way in making carrier screening accessible for everyone, regardless of where in the US they live. People with any Jewish ancestry, regardless of religious denomination or background, and those who are in a relationship with someone of Jewish ethnicity, should consider testing. Until recently, genetic screening options have been limited, cumbersome, inconvenient and costly. JScreen has addressed these issues and subsidizes the cost of screening so the participant is only billed $99 if they have private insurance.

Some have inquired about how JScreen differs from the Dor Yeshorim program. The main distinction would be that JScreen informs all participants of their test results and Dor Yeshorim does not release that information, as that data is solely intended for matchmaking (shidduch) purposes. JScreen’s approach is to provide participants with results, as they have implications for siblings and other family members who may also be carriers and are unaware. Other differences include the testing method—JScreen uses saliva samples for testing, while Dor Yeshorim collects blood. The JScreen disease panel is more comprehensive and includes 42 Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi diseases as well as many other diseases common in the general population.

Once a participant’s results are ready, licensed genetic counselors deliver the results and discuss them by phone or secure teleconference, providing the opportunity for the person (or couple) to have their questions answered. It’s important to point out that the majority of couples receive reassuring results. For those at increased risk, there are many available options, such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) with in-vitro fertilization, to help them plan ahead for healthy children.

All people should take it upon themselves to become an ambassador of genetic screening by telling a friend, family member or colleague in order to help make it top-of-mind for the Jewish community. To learn more about JScreen visit www.JScreen.org.

Hillary Kener handles national outreach and communication for Emory University’s JScreen program. She is a published author and has also been featured in publications around the country for her valuable work.

By Hillary Kener

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