Family Matters: DNA and Genetic Testing for donor conception
Donor Concierge partners with many fertility experts. We asked Liz Kearney, Founder of Mainstream Genomics to give us the basics on family history genetic counseling.
The phrase “DNA testing” conjures images of test kits and cheek swabs arriving in the mail, but testing may not be the best starting point for selection of a donor. Family history, genetic counseling, and genetic testing are equally important for choosing a donor that is right for you.
Genetic (or DNA) testing is an excellent tool. Genetic testing examines a person’s DNA through a blood or saliva sample. DNA is like a blueprint for how a body grows, develops and functions. However, the DNA testing available today cannot tell you everything about a person’s genetic background. At this time, the science behind DNA is still developing. There isn’t one single genetic test that can give all the information about a future baby’s health.
For example, many fertility clinics use some DNA testing for a subset of inherited conditions. However, there are many inherited diseases not included. Reviewing family history can assess whether a different type of genetic test or medical screen may be needed, too.
Family and health history
Collecting family history involves asking questions about a person’s health and their family. Most people have family members with different health issues, some of which can be inherited. Most of these conditions would not be detected by standard DNA testing done by fertility clinics. For example, if a donor has a family member with a childhood condition, such as a birth defect or severe learning problem, they could have a higher chance of passing something similar to a child. There are also inherited conditions that affect adults, such as certain forms of cancer and heart disease. Collecting detailed family history on a donor can better inform couples regarding the chances for an inherited condition in the child.
Genetic counseling is a conversation between two people. It is not genetic testing itself. The difference is the human element. A genetics expert, like a genetic counselor, will integrate the family and health information, genetic testing results, and equally important, the parents-to-be’s values and goals, into one complete picture. Genetic care for one couple will not be the same as it is for another couple. Also, genetic counselors will not “rule out” possible donors. In many cases, they will reassure that something in a donor’s health is not a concern.
The process of choosing a sperm or egg donor is highly personal. DNA testing alone doesn’t provide a complete picture. In addition, genetic counseling combined with family history and DNA testing may actually provide reassurance that a donor’s health background is not a concern.