IM this article to a friend!

October 30, 2002

Now, genes make marriages

From: Newindpress, India
Oct. 30, 2002

BANGALORE: Young couples set for marriage are matching more than kundalis and wavelengths before a making a final decision these days. Many are reckoning with the genetic profiles of their prospective partners too. As awareness increases on the genetic basis of almost every known illness, pre-marriage genetic profiling is gaining ground in the city and couples are seeking scientific help to ensure that they do not pass on genetic defects to offspring.

At the Manipal Hospital’s genetics division, the number of couples seeking pre-marriage help has risen from zilch to an average of 90 per year in the past three years. ‘‘The number of people walking in for genetics-related help is constantly increasing. People who have a family history of genetic defects or those planning consanguous marriages make up a large portion,’’ says Dr Sreedevi Hegde, head of the Genetics Department at Manipal.

Another factor contributing to the number of couples seeking pre-marriage genetic counselling is a rise in the number of visually and hearing-impaired couples entering into alliances. ‘‘They are worried and keen to know whether their defects will be passed onto their children genetically,’’ says Dr Hegde.

There are over 10,000 known gene-related health anomalies -- from chromosomal defects like Down’s syndrome to Thalasaemmia, Duschenne muscular dystrophy to hearing impairment, blindness and cancers. Researchers are also constantly discovering new genetic defects.

The increased awareness about genetics being witnessed in Bangalore is, however, not related to increased public knowledge about the subject and has more to do with the development of genetics as a science and the awareness in the medical fraternity itself. ‘‘Most of the patients we receive tend to be people referred to us by other doctors. Only in a few cases do the patients come themselves,’’ says Dr Hegde.

Patients seem to understand the implications of genetics and are often glad that the information is available, says Dr Hegde. ‘‘But we don’t play God or influence people to make a particular decision,’’ she points out.

There are, incidentally, only two large hospitals currently providing clinical genetics facilities -- Manipal and the Human Genetics Department at the St John’s Medical College. Both centres offer diagnosis of genetic makeup as well as counselling and are seeing a constant increase in patients. As gene-testing methods evolve, even molecular level gene defects will be identified by clinicians and probably used to help the decision-making process of couples.

© Express Network Private Ltd.