Tay-Sachs Disease Prevention

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Tay-Sachs is a genetic disease that can be prevented through certain methods of mate selection, antenatal screening, and preimplantation genetic diagnosis. These techniques can be utilized to reduce the likelihood of individuals being born with Tay-Sachs disease, as a way of prevention.


Tay-Sachs Disease. Image Credit: ibreakstock/Shutterstock.com

Mate Selection

Tay-Sachs disease is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which requires both parents to carry a gene mutation of the disease in order for a child to have a possibility of being affected.

This knowledge has been used in Orthodox Jewish circles to assist couples in choosing a suitable mate to ensure their children will not be affected by the condition. An organization called Dor Yeshorim runs an anonymous screening program for the disease with blood tests of adolescents in high school.

Each individual is given an identification number, which can be quoted to the hotline when planning to start a family with a partner. If both partners are carriers of the disease, they will receive “incompatible” results and advised to find alternative partners. This identification system is designed to minimize any stigma that may result from individuals being categorized as a genetic carrier.

This method of prevention has been effective among specific populations, although it is not clear if it would work in general population groups, particularly those that may not consent to widespread genetic testing. However, some experts have taken an interest in a similar technique to extend this idea as a public health method of prevention.

Antenatal Screening

If both parents that are expecting a child are known to be genetic carriers of Tay-Sachs disease, there is a 25% chance that any children will be affected by the condition. Antenatal testing can be used in this instance to determine if the fetus is likely to be affected by the disease.

This can be carried out with chorionic villus sampling (CVS) from weeks 10 to 14 of the pregnancy, with a cell sample from the placenta that is tested for evidence of the disease. Alternatively, amniocentesis is a diagnostic test that involves a sample of the amniotic fluid between weeks 15 and 20 of the pregnancy that is tested for the disease.

The results of these tests can diagnose a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease with sufficient accuracy to allow expectant parents to decide whether they would like to continue the pregnancy to full-term. Many couples choose to terminate the pregnancy, preventing the disease and the related complication that would arise with it. However, this decision raises certain ethical issues and can be particularly difficult for both the family and health practitioners involved.

Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis

Couples that are both known genetic carriers of Tay-Sachs disease can opt for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to avoid conceiving a child that will be affected by the disease.

Similar to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), this technique involves harvesting the woman’s ova, which are fertilized by the father’s sperm in a laboratory. The embryos can then be tested for Tay-Sachs disease and only those that are unaffected will be implanted into the woman’s uterus for the pregnancy to go ahead. This technique is also used for other genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia.

However, this method is largely limited by the high expense of the procedure. It is not currently covered by public health systems and it is often beyond the financial means of couples that would benefit.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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