BENGALURU: The stars may have aligned and the birds of love may coo, but young couples also want their gene pools to match before they tie the knot.They and their families have been approaching geneticists, on grounds of consanguinity, and paying in tens of thousands for tests to ensure that they have healthy offspring.City-based hospitals and labs say that they receive atleast 15 such requests a month from Bengaluru couples and more than 40 from across the country.The cost of tests can vary between Rs 35,000 and Rs 70,000, based on the number of genes tested. The city now also has the latest test called the chromosome microarray (CMA), a high resolution genetics test, which can cost approximately Rs 16,000 to Rs 25,000.
Ever since Twinkle Khanna shared on a popular talk show about ensuring that her now husband Akshay Kumar’s gene pool was healthy before marriage, couples have become more aware of the issue.
Not just that, tests required for genetic testing are now more advanced in the city with more than 500 genetic disorders detected.Because it is difficult to treat genetic disorders, couples go for carrier screening, done through a sample blood test to determine the risks of their children inheriting a genetic disorder from their families.
Dr Sridevi Hegde, HOD and senior consultant in Medical Genetics of Manipal Hospital, with over 30 years of experience, says that she receives numerous families on a daily basis who are trying to fix an alliance. “I receive about five families a week and at least 15 families a month easily of such cases," says Dr Hegde.
All in the family
According to Dr Hegde, the reasons for increase in premarital consultations are that family members are aware of the health risks involved in consanguineous marriages and seek help in reducing the risk factors.
“If a sibling, cousin or distant relative of one of the youngsters have hearing or speech impairment, Down Syndrome, Leukoderma or kidney ailments, families are concerned. They want healthy genes in the family,” she says.
Once a prospective bride’s mother was seen with Leukoderma patches on the skin. Worried about the next generation’s health, the families decided to go for carrier screening, in which they found the probability to be low. They decided to go ahead with the marriage.Another test that is gaining popularity among pre-marital couples is the non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) — a simple blood test that examines DNA. This is due to increased amount of screening among pregnant women with a high risk of fetal chromosomal disorders.
City is centre for testing
MedGenome, a genomics-based diagnostics and research company in Bommasandra, receives around 40-50 tests every month from around the country. Dr Sheetal Sharda, the Consultant Clinical Geneticist of MedGenome with over 15 years of experience, says that there has been an increase in consultations over the last two years. The most common conditions tested for are thalassemia, haemophilia, spinal muscular atrophy and fusions muscular dystrophy, says Dr Sheetal. Genetic disorders cannot be cured but can only be managed. For example, doctors advise the female counterpart to take preconception folic acid vitamins for almost a month before planning for conception. Proper diet is also suggested, based on probability of inheriting a particular genetic disorder.
Married couples seek help too
Genetic tests are very common among pregnant women with at least 10 patients per day according to Dr Sridevi. Couples in which either the husband or wife have a history of genetic disorders are counselled to undergo prenatal diagnosis at three months. A couple from Mandya, both aged 25 years old, had approached doctors in Manipal Hospital after losing two babies due to a respiratory defect. The couple came for counselling to understand the way forward and they both were screened for 500 chromosomic disorders. One of them was a carrier of metabolic disorder and thus the tissue was sent for screening and later the couple did conceive and no chromosomal abnormality was detected.