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Since the discovery in 1989 that mutations in cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) underlie cystic fibrosis (CF), the most common life shortening genetic disorder in Caucasians, it has been possible to identify heterozygous mutation carriers at risk of having affected children. The Human Genetics Society of Australasia has produced a position statement with recommendations in relation to population-based screening for CF. These include: (1) that screening should be offered to all relatives of people with or carriers of CF (cascade testing) as well as to all couples planning to have children or who are pregnant; (2) the minimum CFTR mutation panel to be tested consists of 17 mutations which are those mutations that are associated with typical CF and occur with a frequency of 0.1% or higher among individuals diagnosed with CF in Australasia; (3) that genetic counselling is offered to all couples where both members are known to have one or two CFTR mutations and that such couples are given the opportunity to meet with a physician with expertise in the management of CF as well as a family/individual affected by the condition.
An anonymous survey of Australian Fellows of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was conducted with the aim of understanding current practice and attitudes toward population-based carrier screening for inherited conditions in the setting of routine pregnancy care. Of 1,121 Fellows invited to complete the online questionnaire by e-mail, 237 (21%) responded, and of these 156 were practicing obstetricians and completed the whole survey. Of the respondents, 83% expressed support for population-based carrier screening for at least some conditions, with 97% supporting carrier screening for β-thalassaemia, and 83% supporting carrier screening for cystic fibrosis (CF). A small proportion of obstetricians reported offering carrier screening as part of routine pregnancy care (20% for β-thalassaemia, 8% for CF, 5% for fragile X syndrome, and 2% for spinal muscular atrophy). The main practical barriers identified for screening were cost, time constraints, and availability of supporting services. Addressing these issues is crucial for the successful implementation of population-based carrier screening programs in Australia and internationally.
As the results of the Human Genome Project are realized, it has become technically possible to identify carriers of numerous autosomal and X-linked recessive disorders. Couples at risk of having a child with one of these conditions have a number of reproductive options to avoid having a child with the condition should they wish. In Australia the haemoglobinopathies are the only group of conditions for which population screening is widely offered and which is government funded. In some Australian states there are also population screening programs for cystic fibrosis and autosomal recessive conditions more common in Ashkenazi Jewish individuals which are generally offered on a user pays basis. It is predicted that as consumer demand increases and testing becomes cheaper, that many people planning or in the early stages of pregnancy will have carrier screening for multiple genetic conditions. This will have significant implications for genetic counseling, laboratory and prenatal testing resources. In addition such screening raises a number of ethical issues including the value of lives of those born with genetic conditions for which screening is available.
Sustained volitional attention and working memory capacity was examined for the first time in people with Friedreich ataxia (FRDA). We administered subtests of the Test of Everyday Attention to 16 individuals with molecularly confirmed FRDA and gender-, age-, and IQ-matched controls. Clinically significant impairment in working memory and sustained volitional attention was evident. Working memory deficits correlated significantly with GAA repeat number on the shorter allele of the FXN gene, and separately, with disease severity, as measured by the Friedreich Ataxia Rating Scale score. Sustained volitional attention was not correlated with disease parameters, suggesting that this impairment may not be related to the disease process in a simple way. The deficits observed may be the result of disruption to corticocerebellar pathways, or directly related to the cortical and/or cerebellar pathology evident in people with FRDA. (JINS, 2011, 17, 000–000)
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