Challenging the dogma of the healthy heterozygote: Implications for newborn screening policies and practices.

Published on Aug 21, 2021in Molecular Genetics and Metabolism4.17
· DOI :10.1016/J.YMGME.2021.08.008
Philip M. Farrell80
Estimated H-index: 80
(UW: University of Wisconsin-Madison),
Elinor Langfelder-Schwind2
Estimated H-index: 2
(ISMMS: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai),
Michael H. Farrell (UMN: University of Minnesota)
Abstract null null Heterozygous (carrier) status for an autosomal recessive condition is traditionally considered to lack significance for an individual's health, but this assumption has been challenged by a growing body of evidence. Carriers of several autosomal recessive disorders and some X-linked diseases are potentially at risk for the pathology manifest in homozygotes. This minireview provides an overview of the literature regarding health risks to carriers of two common autosomal recessive conditions on the Recommended Uniform Screening Panel: sickle cell disease [sickle cell trait (SCT)] and cystic fibrosis (CF). We also consider and comment on bioethical and policy implications for newborn blood screening (NBS). Health risks for heterozygotes, while relatively low for individuals, are often influenced by intrinsic (e.g., other genomic variants or co-morbidities) and extrinsic (environmental) factors, which present opportunities for personalized genomic medicine and risk counseling. They create a special challenge, however, for developing screening/follow-up policies and for genetic counseling, particularly after identification and reporting of heterozygote status through NBS. Although more research is needed, this minireview of the SCT and CF literature to date leads us to propose that blanket terms such as “healthy heterozygotes” or “unaffected carriers” should be superseded in communications about NBS results, in favor of a more nuanced paradigm of setting expectations for health outcomes with “genotype-to-risk.” In the molecular era of NBS, it remains clear that public health needs to become better prepared for the full range of applied genetics.
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