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Genetic Disease Screening at Sperm Banks

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a blog by Cappy Rothman, MD, Medical Director, California Cryobank August 4, 2011

To read more of Cappy Rothman's Sperm Bank 101 blogs, CLICK HERE.

Sperm banks don’t just help you build your family; they invest in the health of your children. One of the ways they may do this is by performing a genetic evaluation of each sperm donor’s family medical history.

A three-generation family history evaluation by a trained professional such as a genetic counselor can identify risks for inherited disease and determine what genetic tests should be performed on a particular sperm donor. This is one step of the process sperm banks can use to screen their donors for genetic diseases.

In addition to assessing the sperm donor’s medical history and performing genetic testing, genetic professionals can help to manage updated health information about a sperm donor, his family members or offspring that were conceived using his specimens. In most cases, the medical information will not represent an increased risk for medical problems in the sperm donor’s offspring. However, in the event that a sperm bank receives information that indicates a specific risk for a medical problem in other offspring of that sperm donor, they may decide to contact clients to whom this information is relevant.

A third way that a sperm bank can help foster the health of your children is by helping you consider and understand your own genetic and medical history. The mother contributes 50 percent of her child's DNA; therefore, a genetic evaluation of the mother’s family history by a genetic counselor can be incredibly helpful. While many people think that they know their own family history, they are often unaware of its significance to the health of their children. For example, a genetic consultation can help you understand the family history of a sperm donor that you really love but you hesitate to use due to a particular medical issue. If you have a consultation with a genetic counselor and evaluate your own medical history along with the donor’s history, you can learn about the risks for medical issues in future children if you use that donor. You can also find out if there is testing that you may want to perform on yourself or request on your donor to reduce any risks to your children.

There is no one-size-fits-all test that is right for every family. Both the sperm donor’s and the mother’s family history must be carefully evaluated in order to identify what additional genetic screening, if any, should be considered.

The genetic services that are available at each sperm bank differ. Sperm banks also perform genetic evaluations of their donors differently and perform different genetic tests on their sperm donor applicants. This is something you should consider when selecting a sperm donor to ensure that you and your sperm bank have made the best possible investments in your child’s health.

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