Jewish student-led event explores “What’s In Your Genes”

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This diagram shows how with genetic screening, people can understand the risk of passing life-threatening sicknesses onto their children. Image courtesy of Deborah Wasserman

By Elizabeth Tabbouche
@Mitzpeh
For Mitzpeh

What we cannot see often dictates our future. 

On Sunday, Nov. 15, a virtual panel of genetic counselors presented to over fifty students about the importance of genetic testing and counseling in an event that spread awareness and educated the Jewish community and people of all ethnicities.

Organized by Gabi Frohlich, a Jewish junior family science major, the event was a “double-header” geared toward students interested in genetics as well as personal screening. Frohlich, who said that the family unit is where everything starts,” is passionate about spreading awareness regarding genetic screening and familial history.

Frohlich’s found a gap in this university’s genetic knowledge despite her passion for the subject. Seeking more information, Frohlich worked together with the Nicholas Hospital in Miami to gather a panel of educated counselors to discuss the importance and urgency of genetic testing.

The panelists’ specialties varied. Deborah Wasserman, a prenatal genetic counselor in Miami, shared the importance of premarital screening and various congenital abnormalities. Elizabeth Stark, a cancer genetics specialist in D.C., explored the familial implications of genetics.

Katie Sagaser and Kristen Miller, both Maryland prenatal genetic counselors as well, shared their passion, presence, and devotion to the genetic screening process as well as an insider look at the works of being a genetic counselor. 

The panelists advocated for the importance of genetic testing and addressed the broader issues at stake. According to Wasserman, “one test gives us the ability to look at the whole family,” as it can provide the information necessary to help an unborn child or prevent cancer.

Stark believes that although people often fear that testing brings only bad news, by breaking the stigma and opening up the idea of genetic counseling, we can better understand what runs through our bodies and explore all the little things we cannot see. 

“Having a mutation does not mean you are diagnosed with cancer,” she said. 

She added that learning about your genes opens a window to your family history and can only aid the betterment of your life. 

Participants learned that the importance of advocating can run deeper than self-awareness and may reveal truths to other family members.

“Just because you yourself are not at risk does not mean your family members aren’t,” Frohlich said.

Genes are the blueprint of familial ties, and when explored, open up for the possibility for alteration. Jews, who have an especially high risk for many genetic disorders, can benefit from screening, testing and counseling.

Genetic counseling itself is a complex field that deals with lots of heartbreak, but as Katie Sagaser said, it is “rewarding to be an advocate for people.” The panel taught attendants that everybody has things that run deep, and individuals have an obligation to explore and tackle that which they cannot see. 

Although genetics are unpredictable, evolutionary and expandable, screening can explore what truly courses through our veins.