Screenings for Jewish genetic diseases offered at UF

Did you know that one out of every five Ashkenazi Jewish men and women is a carrier of a gene mutation that can cause several life-threatening diseases?

The University of Miami's Victor Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases will be holding a free Ashkenazi Jewish Genetics Education Day at the University of Florida to educate individuals about genetic diseases that are more common in Ashkenazi Jews and to offer free screenings to local high school, UF and Santa Fe College students, as well as to young professionals ages 18 to 45.

Sessions will begin at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 12) at the University of Florida Hillel building, 2020 W. University Ave. Non-students can be screened for a reduced fee.

The focus will be on carrier screening to prevent genetic diseases, which include Tay-Sachs disease and cystic fibrosis.

"We hope to screen 200 people at this event, making it one of the largest campus screenings in the nation," said Deborah Herbstman, a doctoral student in genetics at UF's College of Medicine. "Genetic counselors from UF's department of pediatrics are donating their time as volunteers for this event."

Guests include Lois B. Victor, founder of the Victor Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases, and Adele Schneider, M.D., the director of clinical genetics at Einstein Medical Center and director of the Victor Center in Philadelphia. Victor lost two children to a Jewish genetic disease and is passionate in her mission to ensure that no family experiences the heartache of these preventable diseases.

"We are looking for carriers, people who are not affected, but whose risk is in passing the gene to their offspring," Schneider said. "This is a case of knowledge is power. Fortunately, we can detect all of these diseases with one simple blood test. Further genetic counseling can provide young men and women who are carriers with crucial information as they begin planning to start their own families."

In addition to a blood test, the screenings will involve routine paperwork, like forms one would fill out at a doctor's office, and genetic counseling, according to the Victor Center. Those tested will receive their results six to eight weeks later.

Like other health information, the results of the screening and all medical information will be kept confidential, organizers say.

The mission of the Victor Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases is to raise awareness of Jewish genetic diseases and to provide affordable genetic counseling and screening for healthy individuals at risk of being carriers of a gene mutation for at least one of these diseases.

For more information or to volunteer to help with the event, contact Herbstman at dmh@ufl.edu or at 352-328-6973. Or visit the Ashkenazi Jewish Genetics Education Day's Facebook group, titled "UF Ashkenazi Jewish Genetic Screening."