British Columbia

New genetic test available in Canada screens for hereditary conditions

Canadian couples having a baby can now test to determine if they will pass on genetic diseases to their children.

Blood or saliva sample can show if parents will pass on genetic diseases to children

A new test in Canada offered by LifeLabs can test if parents are carriers of genetic diseases that can be passed onto their children. (Reuters)

Canadian couples having a baby can now test to determine if they will pass on genetic diseases to their children.

Starting this month, LifeLabs — Canada's largest provider of community laboratory services — is offering the Counsyl Family Prep Screen across the country.

It can detect if a person carries a genetic health condition that can be passed unknowingly from a parent to their child.

Test screens for more than 100 diseases

By collecting a sample of blood or saliva, the screen can test for more than 100 serious genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Wilson's disease and Tay-Sachs disease.

"Genetic disease is the number one cause of infant deaths each year," said Jeff Sumner with Ontario-based LifeLabs. "So it is an important factor and it's responsible for about 20 per cent of all infant deaths. I think this will allow people as a minimum to be more prepared. If they are having a child that is impacted they can get the appropriate treatment early on."

In a statement, LifeLabs said the test is recommended by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Canada [SOGC] as well as the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists [CCMG] for people of certain populations where there is a higher incidence of of specific genetic conditions.

Costs between $900 and $1,500

Sumner says the screening costs between $900 and $1,500. A positive results means that a parent is a healthy "carrier" of a genetic disease. When both parents are carriers of the same disease they have a one in four chance of giving birth to a child that is at risk for that disease.

"Even with a family history of a disease, a person can still be a carrier," said Sumner.

​He says at least 24 per cent of individuals tested are found to be a carrier of at least one condition.

"What you really want to know is if you are both carriers of the same disease which can unknowingly be passed from parent to child."

Counsyl has screened over 400,000 people in the U.S. since the test was made available there in 2009.

LifeLabs says genetic and genomic testing are the fastest growing segments in laboratory medicine.

with files from the CBC's Chantelle Bellrichard


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