Carrier detection and prenatal diagnosis of hemoglobinopathies in Ontario.
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The province of Ontario has a total population of approximately 10 million people, with approximately 20% being of African, Southeast Asian, East Indian, Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern ancestry in whom the gene frequency for hemoglobinopathies is relatively high. In 1989, the Ontario Ministry of Health funded the establishment of the Provincial Hemoglobinopathy DNA Diagnostic Laboratory located at the McMaster University Medical Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. The Laboratory provides DNA analysis to identify the globin gene mutations in carriers and affected individuals, and performs prenatal diagnosis for severe hemoglobinopathies. Annually, more than 400 patient samples are referred to the Laboratory for investigation, of which 25-35 are fetal samples from pregnancies at risk for either homozygous alpha-thalassemia, beta-thalassemia major, or sickling disorders. We have detected more than 70 different globin gene mutations, including several mutations not previously reported in the literature. Here we present examples of the approaches used to detect globin gene mutations in a heterogeneous "at risk" population such as in Ontario, and discuss the impact of this service on patient care, genetic counselling, and the incidence of severe hemoglobinopathies in Ontario.
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