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Genetic testing: Would you want to know your baby's future — at birth?

A new study asked parents if they'd want a glimpse into the medical crystal ball.
Both moms and dads favored expanded genetic testing at birth.ThinkStock

The birth of a child is already a highly emotional time for parents. So would they want to add the knowledge of their newborn’s full genetic potential to their newly expanded list of joys and worries?

A new study says yes — but not all parents.​​

"Several other studies have measured parents' interest in newborn genomic screening, but none focused on new parents in the first 48 hours," said senior author Dr. Robert C. Green, a geneticist and researcher at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

​​"Since this is when genomic testing would be of the greatest value, it is especially important to study parents' attitudes immediately post-partum."

As genetic testing becomes a routine part of clinical care, and the scope of the information that genome sequencing yields increases, researchers and doctors are gauging interest in going beyond existing mandatory genetic screening done shortly after birth.

Current mandatory tests include 21 conditions (though some states test for as many as 30) affecting metabolism, blood disorders and other complications that could pose a short- or long-term threat to the newborn’s health and development.

The study, which was published this week in Genetics in Medicine, is the first to examine new parents’ attitudes toward genetic testing through a survey of 514 parents of healthy babies within 48 hours of their birth at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It found that if the service is available, both parents (surveyed separately) expressed interest: 82.7 percent said they were somewhat (36 percent), very, (28 percent) or extremely (18 percent) interested in newborn genomic testing.

The results were consistent regardless of parents' age, gender, race, ethnicity, level of education, family history of genetic disease, or whether or not the infant was a first-born child.

There was one subgroup of parents who were less likely to favor genetic testing: those with pre-existing concerns about the health of their newborn.

"About 75 percent of couples were in concordance," said Susan Waisbren, lead author of the study and a psychologist and researcher in the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children's and Harvard Medical School.

Based on the results, senior author Green called for further research into the potential public health impact of expanded genetic testing.

 
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