JScreen public health initiative launches to fight Jewish genetic diseases

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Sep. 16, 2013

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The JScreen program provides at-home genetic screening and private counseling for people with Jewish lineage to determine their risk for hereditary diseases that could be passed to their children.

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Holly Korschun
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Fighting hereditary disease among Jews is the aim of a multi-state public health initiative launched today, called JScreen.  The JScreen program (www.jscreen.org), managed by Emory University School of Medicine's Department of Human Genetics, provides at-home genetic screening and private counseling for people with Jewish lineage to determine their risk for hereditary diseases that could be passed to their children.

Today's geneticists have identified genetic markers for 19 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. Couples who are both carriers can risk unknowingly having children with one of these diseases. JScreen also offers an expanded panel, useful for couples of mixed descent and interfaith couples, which screens for a total of 80 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," said Patricia Zartman Page, JScreen senior director at the Emory School of Medicine's Department of Human Genetics.

JScreen makes testing for common genetic diseases simple - providing an easy-to-use at-home saliva test that gives people who are planning to have children an unprecedented understanding of their own genetic makeup and risks relating to their children's health. If a person or couple's risk is elevated, genetic counselors from Emory University School of Medicine will privately address their results, options and resources to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.

"Most of the time, we are able to reassure couples that their future children are not at increased risk for these devastating diseases," said Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, JScreen senior director at the Emory School of Medicine's Department of Human Genetics. "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."

An estimated 76 percent of young Jewish men and women have not been tested, according to Emory's own research. Now JScreen is here to provide everyday people with ready access to cutting-edge Jewish genetic testing technology, patient education and genetic counseling services. People interested in requesting the kit can visit the program's website at www.JScreen.org to learn more.

JScreen will start in Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. For individuals with medical insurance, the cost of screening will usually not exceed $99, and is often much lower, depending on insurance.

Join the JScreen movement and conversation online by connecting with us socially at: www.facebook.com/myJScreen; www.twitter.com/myJScreen; www.youtube.com/myJScreen

About JScreen
JScreen (www.JScreen.org) is a non-profit, community-based public health initiative dedicated to preventing Jewish genetic diseases. Headquartered in Atlanta at Emory University School of Medicine, the JScreen initiative is a collaboration among clinical geneticists, socially minded businesses and nonprofits to provide everyday people with a ready access point to cutting-edge genetic testing technology, patient education and genetic counseling services.

Emory University Department of Human Genetics
Emory's Department of Human Genetics brings genetic discoveries to those who will benefit, as quickly as possible. The majority of the research in the department focuses on human genetic disease, with particular strengths in neurogenetics, metabolic disease and translational studies. With more than 40 faculty members working side by side in basic research and comprehensive clinical care, Emory's human genetics team ranks in the nation's top 10 departments. The JScreen program is led by Stephen Warren, PhD, scientific director; Michael Gambello, MD, PhD, medical director; Patricia Page, MS, CGC, program senior director; and Karen Grinzaid, MS, CGC, CCRC, program senior director.