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Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2003 Aug;40(4):473-97.

Carrier testing for autosomal-recessive disorders.

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  • 1Biochemical Genetics Laboratory, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Children's and Women's Health Centre of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


The aim of carrier testing is to identify carrier couples at risk of having offspring with a serious genetic (autosomal recessive) disorder. Carrier couples are offered genetic consultation where their reproductive options, including prenatal diagnosis, are explained. The Ashkenazi Jewish population is at increased risk for several recessively inherited disorders (Tay-Sachs disease, Cystic fibrosis, Canavan disease, Gaucher disease, Familial Dysautonomia, Niemann-Pick disease, Fanconi anemia, and Bloom syndrome). Unlike Tay-Sachs disease, there is no simple biochemical or enzymatic test to detect carriers for these other disorders. However, with the rapid identification of disease-causing genes in recent years, DNA-based assays are increasingly available for carrier detection. Approximately 5% of the world's population carries a mutation affecting the globin chains of the hemoglobin molecule. Among the most common of these disorders are the thalassemias. The global birth rate of affected infants is at least 2 per 1000 (in unscreened populations), with the greatest incidence in Southeast Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern ethnic groups. Carriers are detected by evaluation of red cell indices and morphology, followed by more sophisticated hematological testing and molecular analyses. The following issues need to be considered in the development of a carrier screening program: (1) test selection based on disease severity and test accuracy; (2) funding for testing and genetic counselling; (3) definition of the target population to be screened; (4) development of a public and professional education program; (5) informed consent for screening; and (6) awareness of community needs.

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