Modeled Fetal Risk of Genetic Diseases Identified by Expanded Carrier Screening

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Screening for carrier status of a limited number of single-gene conditions is the current standard of prenatal care. Methods have become available allowing rapid expanded carrier screening for a substantial number of conditions.


To quantify the modeled risk of recessive conditions identifiable by an expanded carrier screening panel in individuals of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and to compare the results with those from current screening recommendations.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Retrospective modeling analysis of results between January 1, 2012, and July 15, 2015, from expanded carrier screening in reproductive-aged individuals without known indication for specific genetic testing, primarily from the United States. Tests were offered by clinicians providing reproductive care.


Individuals were tested for carrier status for up to 94 severe or profound conditions.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Risk was defined as the probability that a hypothetical fetus created from a random pairing of individuals (within or across 15 self-reported racial/ethnic categories; there were 11 categories with >5000 samples) would be homozygous or compound heterozygous for 2 mutations presumed to cause severe or profound disease. Severe conditions were defined as those that if left untreated cause intellectual disability or a substantially shortened lifespan; profound conditions were those causing both.


The study included 346 790 individuals. Among major US racial/ethnic categories, the calculated frequency of fetuses potentially affected by a profound or severe condition ranged from 94.5 per 100 000 (95% CI, 82.4-108.3 per 100 000) for Hispanic couples to 392.2 per 100 000 (95% CI, 366.3-420.2 per 100 000) for Ashkenazi Jewish couples. In most racial/ethnic categories, expanded carrier screening modeled more hypothetical fetuses at risk for severe or profound conditions than did screening based on current professional guidelines (Mann-Whitney P < .001). For Northern European couples, the 2 professional guidelines-based screening panels modeled 55.2 hypothetical fetuses affected per 100 000 (95% CI, 51.3-59.3 per 100 000) and the expanded carrier screening modeled 159.2 fetuses per 100 000 (95% CI, 150.4-168.6 per 100 000). Overall, relative to expanded carrier screening, guideline-based screening ranged from identification of 6% (95% CI, 4%-8%) of hypothetical fetuses affected for East Asian couples to 87% (95% CI, 84%-90%) for African or African American couples.

Conclusions and Relevance

In a population of diverse races and ethnicities, expanded carrier screening may increase the detection of carrier status for a variety of potentially serious genetic conditions compared with current recommendations from professional societies. Prospective studies comparing current standard-of-care carrier screening with expanded carrier screening in at-risk populations are warranted before expanded screening is adopted.

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