16 June 2010

JGSLA 2010: The gift of life

The annual international Jewish genealogy conferences have included many DNA and genetics topics over recent years. This year offers even more sessions.

What's new this year are three opportunities to help others through medical studies and bone marrow testing.

Conference-goers can give something back this year - including the gift of life - to the Jewish community and to those exploring their Jewish heritage.

Tracing the Tribe's readers have likely all read about the two new DNA studies. NYU's Dr. Harry Ostrer will be speaking in Los Angeles and was recently quoted in the New York Times.

"Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East share many genes inherited from the ancestral Jewish population that lived in the Middle East some 3,000 years ago, even though each community also carries genes from other sources — usually the country in which it lives. That is the conclusion of two new genetic surveys, the first to use genome-wide scanning devices to compare many Jewish communities around the world..." (click here for more)
Ostrer will speak on this topic at 8.45pm, Monday evening, July 12, as he discusses his soon-to-be-published new book "Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People."

For two years, he and his colleagues have DNA-analyzed the whole genomes of 16 Jewish groups (Iranian, Iraqi, Yemenite, Georgian, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek, Ashkenazi, Ethiopian, Libyan, Tunisian, Djerban, Algerian, Moroccan, and Bene Israel) and compared patterns of variation with each other and those of worldwide non-Jewish groups. The studies have demonstrated that the history of the Jewish Diasporas is reflected in the genomes of Jewish people. The studies are being extended to other Jewish groups and to possible reconstruction of Eastern European Jewish communities.

Ostrer will - at the conference - recruit individuals to enroll in the Ashkenazi Jewish Single Origins Study, which seeks participants who have documented evidence that all four grandparents came from the same exact geographic area and lived within a certain mile radius of each other. Click here to complete a brief eligibility questionnaire.

This will allow Ostrer to determine if you are eligible and follow up to arrange an enrollment appointment at the conference. His table will be next to the Hospitality Desk in the conference center foyer, across from the Resource Room. Completing this survey or making an appointment is not a commitment to participate in the study. Learn more here.

The second opportunity is being offered by Ostrer's associate Lauren Carpiniello, who will be recruiting Ashkenazi Jewish women for an NYU Women's Breast and Ovarian Cancer Genetics Study withtwo primary goals:

1- Investigate unknown genes that may be responsible for hereditary breast and/or ovarian cancer.

2- Identify modifier genes that may interact with known hereditary breast and/or ovarian cancer genes (i.e. BRCA1 and BRCA2) to protect some individuals from getting cancer.
They hope the study will provide individuals with a more personalized assessment on their risk to develop breast or ovarian cancer and offer some families additional testing in regards to their strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer. This is an anonymous study; therefore, no genetic results will be reported to individuals through this study.

Results will be released for the study population as a whole and will serve to benefit the Ashkenazi Jewish population as a whole. To see if you qualify, follow this link.

Ostrer and Carpiniello will be at their foyer table from Sunday through Tuesday, July 11-13, at the conference. Learn more about the study here.

The third opportunity is a Bone Marrow Donation Drive at the IAJGS Conference (AKA "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Spit!")

The conference is partnering with the non-profit Gift of Life, which focuses on finding bone marrow donors for patients in the Jewish community.

Gift Of Life volunteers will have a table at the conference during the first few days, so attendees can easily join the international bone marrow registry.

Those who need bone marrow donors are more likely to find a suitable genetic match among his or her own family members or ethnic group. The Jewish population is smaller than others, so finding a close genetic match is hard.

According to the organization, the chances of finding a suitable genetic match are as follows:

-- An Ashkenazi Jew: only a 70% chance
-- A Sephardic person: only a 30% chance
-- A half-Ashkenazi, half-Sephardi person: only a 6% chance
The stats are that bad, and not much better when Israeli donor databases are searched.

The same genetic and social isolation that makes Jewish family history so interesting can be devastating when looking for close genetic matches. The best way to help is by recruiting more people, and JGSLA 2010 wants to help increase the chances to find matches.

To improve the odds, more people must test - those who are ethnically Jewish or partly Jewish. Each attendee who joins the registry through the conference will be listed in the Donor Circle, enabling the group to track how many lives are saved in the future by those who signed up at the conference.

The test is painless and quick: A swab of the inside of your check and completing a simple form.

Each year, one in every 1,000 people in the registry saves a life through a marrow donation.

With more than 1,000 people - most ethnically Jewish - anticipated at the event, the conference committee believes this provides an important opportunity.

If you cannot attend the conference from July 11-16, you can still hep by ordering a test kit online ($54) to be mailed to your home. Use this link, read the guidelines and follow the instructions. Make sure to choose the JGSLA2010 Donor Circle.

If you cannot join the registry due to age or medical condition, you can still help: 1- adopt the cost of getting another person's test kit stored in a backlog of not-yet-analyzed kits; and 2- ask your children, nieces, nephews or other relatives to join the registry instead,

Click here to learn more about the bone marow drive.

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