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University Professor, a Bone Marrow Transplant Recipient, Hosts Discussion of “Why Jewish Genes Matter”


Posted 03/18/2015
Posted by David Isgur


The University of Hartford’s Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, together with Hartford Hillel, will be presenting a program on “Why Jewish Genes Matter” on Tuesday, March 24. The program will feature Shari Ungeleider, director of the Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium (JGDC) and will be preceded by a “Gift of Life” Bone Marrow Foundation swab drive. The program is designed to increase awareness about Jewish genetic diseases and encourage timely and appropriate genetic screening for people of Jewish heritage. Both events — the discussion at 7 p.m. in Wilde Auditorium in the Harry Jack Gray Center and the bone marrow swab drive from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at Suisman Lounge in the Gengras Student Union building — are free and open to the public.

Professor Richard Freund, director of the Greenberg Center, who teaches the course “Jewish, Christian and Islamic Ethics” at the University of Hartford, will serve as the moderator for the evening. Freund is a 2004 recipient of a bone marrow transplant thanks to a Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation drive like the one that Hillel is conducting. Shari Ungeleider from the JGDC will talk about some of the major advances in identifying many Jewish genetic diseases through early screening.

The field of genetics has revolutionized and the unlocking of the human genome has led to and will continue to direct scientists in a quest to help cure some of the diseases that plague humankind.

People from a Jewish heritage are more likely than the general population to be carriers of certain genetic diseases. Carriers are usually healthy and unaffected by the diseases, but when coupled with another carrier, the risk of passing along the disease to a child rises to 1 in 4. 

There are now tests for more than 25 diseases of concern to people of Jewish heritage. The Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium (JGDC), urges Jewish and interfaith couples to be screened prior to beginning a family. The JGDC consists of geneticists, physicians, rabbis and families who have been affected by one of the genetic disease. It was created in 2005 and gives one voice to many that share the common goal of increasing awareness and carrier screening for genetic diseases found more frequently in the Jewish population. 

For decades, it has been common for Jews to be to be tested for Tay-Sachs, a degenerative disease that is usually fatal by the age of 4.  However, many other disorders that are found in the Jewish communities are less known, but just as devastating.

There are different genetic concerns for people of Ashkenazi Jewish background (Germany, French and Eastern Europe), and persons of Sephardic or Mizrahi Jewish background (Mediterranean, Iran/Persia or Middle East).. These diseases are autosomal recessive, which means that both parents must be carriers of the same disease to have an affected child.  If they are both carriers, each pregnancy has a 25 percent chance that their child will be affected with that disease.  Carrier status can be passed down through many generations without anyone being aware.

The JGDC recommends screening prior to conception as this affords the couple many more options. Genetic screening panels are now affordable and often covered by insurance. If carrier couples are discovered through screening, there are many options for that couple to have healthy family.  

Please visit the JGDC website for more information on the diseases and carrier screening, www.JewishGeneticDiseases.org