“There are a lot of tests for different cancer genes, but we wanted to test people to show that if they have a positive result, that result could be actionable,” the director of JScreen said in an interview with World Israel News.
By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News
JScreen, a reproductive screening organization for Jewish people based in Atlanta, Georgia, is expanding its at-home testing capabilities to clients Jews for hereditary diseases that could impact their future.
The public health group, which is associated with Emory University, is providing at-home test kits for Jewish adults to see if they are carriers of certain diseases based on their background. Each of the genes tested by JScreen’s CancerGEN test are ones that people can take into their own hands by taking preventative action once they know they are carriers.
“We’re testing the BRCA genes and over 60 other genes that are associated with increased genetic risk for cancer,” Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, executive director of JScreen, said during a phone interview Thursday with World Israel News.
“There are a lot of tests for different cancer genes, but we wanted to test people to show that if they have a positive result, that result could be actionable,” she said.
While there are many types of diseases that affect Ashkenazi Jews more than the general population, such as the BRCA gene that causes breast cancer, the testing can make a meaningful difference, Grinzaid explains. With the knowledge provided in the genetic testing, one can make sure they and their children do not suffer.
“For the first seven years, we were just doing reproductive carrier screening,” said Grinzaid, who is also an assistant professor for Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics. “We were testing for things that could impact a couple’s future children, like Tay-Sachs and cystic fibrosis, where the parents are healthy carriers but the future children could be at risk.
“We did that until 2019 and we were getting a lot of questions about how common cancer is in the Jewish community. In the Jewish community, there’s a 10 times higher risk in having a BRCA gene, which increases a person’s risk for different types of cancer.”
Why are Ashkenazi Jews susceptible to such diseases?
“For Tay-Sachs, one individual had a change in their Tay-Sachs gene and over time, people have kids and grandkids — populations were isolated during the Holocaust and pogroms — and people intermarried,” Grinzaid said. “Mutations are more common in that community. That’s what we see now. The same thing that happened with Tay-Sachs happened with BRCA.”
JScreen tested 500 Jewish people in Atlanta and its surrounding areas to see if they were interested in testing cancer genes from the comfort of their home.
“People like having that point of access and having that information,” she said.
“We started in 2013 as an initiative to prevent Jewish genetic diseases in the Jewish community. We were trying to develop a point of access and making the testing comprehensive, accessible and affordable. You can order a screening kit to your home and do the testing easily. A genetic counseling service is provided so that when the person’s results are ready, they’re talking to a genetic counselor to understand the results and next steps.”
Thus far, JScreen has screened approximately 20,000 people over the past eight years. The lab works only with American citizens but is hoping to expand to Israel at some point in the near future.
All a person needs to do is spit in a tube and mail the kit to the lab. When the test results are ready, a genetic counselor will contact him or her via email to make an appointment for a full discussion.
One can register online by visiting www.jscreen.org.