Preventing “Jewish Diseases” – The Center for Jewish Genetics

A few decades ago, concepts like “DNA” and “genetic testing” still seemed like science fiction, but today, they form the cornerstone of modern medicine. Doctors can now examine a person’s entire genome, often for only a few hundred dollars, and test for specific genetic disorders that can identify a predisposition to a certain disease long before any symptoms appear. In the course of their research, scientists have found numerous genetic issues that seem to occur more often in minority populations, and Jewish people who are part of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic ethnicities are particularly predisposed to a number of issues. Luckily, Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews living in Chicago have a trusted resource to turn to: the Center for Jewish Genetics.

In 1999, in response to a groundbreaking 1997 symposium on the topic of Jewish genetic disorders, the Center for Jewish Genetics was created to address the educational and medical needs for both the Jewish community and the medical professionals treating them. Founded through the cooperation of its parent organizations, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the Center for Jewish Studies has already made great strides in meeting the healthcare needs of at-risk Jewish populations. Given that 25 percent of all Jews carry at least one Jewish genetic disorder, this mission has only grown more critical as scientific tools for understanding genetics continue to evolve.

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, given their differing ancestry, are predisposed to different kinds of disorders. The most well-known disorder remains Tay-Sachs, an illness for which Ashkenazi Jews are most at risk. However, other disorders, such as Mucolipidosis IV, Fanconi Anemia Group C, G6PD Deficiency, and Wolman Disease, occur more often in these populations. Luckily, genetic screening can help those with the identified genetic traits to seek preventative treatment, and, perhaps more importantly, can help aspiring parents avoid passing these genes on to their children.

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