A Jnetics initiative has seen a record number of Jewish teenagers in the London area being screened for genetic disorders.
Launched in March, the GENEius programme is geared to educating about the genetic disorders which are more prominent among Ashkenazim.
Year 12 pupils in participating schools are offered free screening and three-quarters of those addressed by Jnetics staff in the first year took up the option.
Hasmonean Girls’ School, Immanuel College and JFS were involved in the initial programme. And Greg Blank, Jnetics’ project and programme manager, said that others were coming on board.
“We have dates in November booked in with JCoSS,” he reported. “We’re in discussions with Yavneh, Hasmonean Boys, King Solomon and King David in Manchester. And the schools we’ve been into have already expressed an interest in us coming back to do the next year group.”
The schools’ programme typically starts with an interactive assembly, providing information about Jewish genetic disorders, what it means to be a carrier and how screening can enable those affected to manage risk for the future. The screening is held a week later.
Between the three schools, more than 325 pupils were educated on the issue. Just under 250 went on to be screened, 161 from JFS, 53 from Immanuel and 33 Hasmonean girls.
“They sign up online on at a bespoke website we created,” Mr Blank explained.
“As well as taking part in the assembly, each student spends time one-on-one with a screening adviser for any questions they might have. The screening is a saliva test — they spit into a tube. There’s no need to take blood. It’s all very straightforward”.
Jnetics already subsidises the £190 screening cost charged to adults. So £250 has to be found for every pupil taking the free screening.
“We rely solely on donations in order to be able to pay for the tests,” Mr Blank stressed.
The charity eventually hopes to offer the programme to Jewish pupils in non-Jewish schools.
“There are around 2,000 Jewish students in every year group and we want to reach as many as possible,” Mr Blank said.
“Nine hundred attend mainstream Jewish schools and going into those gives us the ability to target more students. We’re concentrating on the Jewish schools for now. But it’s definitely something we can look into for the future”.