Researchers question some genetic screening

Society Materials 19 September 2007 23:30 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Telling couples their fetuses have a treatable genetic disorder leads many of them to terminate the pregnancy, researchers said on Tuesday, raising issues about genetic screening programs.

The study -- the first to show what couples actually did when they learned their unborn child had such conditions -- found the rate of abortions dropped sharply if the parents-to-be consulted specialist physicians.

"The interesting thing is, as a genetic community this has been going on and we haven't looked back to see the consequences of putting these screening programs into place," Ephrat Levy-Lahad, a geneticist at Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem said in a telephone interview.

"This is a cautionary tale of the future of genetics in general."

Levy-Lahad's team used data from 10 Israeli genetic centers on people screened for Gaucher disease, an inherited condition which can be effectively treated, and they interviewed couples by telephone.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers said genetic tests showed that 16 of 68 participating couples had a fetus with type 1 Gaucher disease, the mildest form, Levy-Lahad said.

Of those, four couples decided to end their pregnancies, including two whose fetuses would likely have had no symptoms, the researchers said. Overall, 66 percent of foetuses with mild Gaucher tendencies were aborted, they found.

Gaucher disease is caused by a defective gene that prevents the body from producing an enzyme that plays a critical role in removing and recycling worn-out cells.