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Genetic Linkage

What's In A Placenta?

I didn’t think much about placentas until I had one and part of it dislodged halfway through a 4-mile run. Happily it ended well some months later with a “small for gestational age” tiny baby and a “large for just giving birth” me.

After that I became more sensitive to mentions of this intriguing organ that connects two individuals in a way that no other does. I noticed new hair conditioners touting “placenta” as an ingredient, and learned about people eating them. A geneticist friend kept one from a daughter’s birth, pickled in a jar, in his lab.

A placenta is much more than an "afterbirth," a biological afterthought. It's crucial. Read More 
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Blinded By Stem Cells

Age-related macular degeneration slowly destroys central vision.
The small wavy shimmers and fuzzy areas in the 78-year-old’s eyes had grown slowly, leading to a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects more than 10 million Americans. She had the more common “dry” form. Despite 2 years of injections of one of the latest drugs (a vascular endothelial growth factor [VEGF] blocker), her sight was worsening. How much longer would she be able to drive, with a growing blob obscuring the center of her visual world?

Her family went online to research alternative approaches. Read More 
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Saving GINA: Is Genetic Privacy Imperiled?

A bill that passed last week in the House threatens genetic privacy protections put in place with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008. The “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act” might instead be called the “telling on relatives” ruling.

GINA

According to GINA, employers can’t use genetic information to hire, fire, or promote an employee, or require genetic testing, and health insurers can’t require genetic tests nor use results to deny coverage. The law clearly defines genetic tests – DNA, RNA, chromosomes, proteins, metabolites – and genetic information –genetic test results and family history of a genetic condition.

GINA refers to a case, Norman-Bloodsaw v. Lawrence Berkeley Lab from 1998, that allowed clerical and administrative workers to sue their employer for requiring testing for “highly private and sensitive medical genetic information such as syphilis, sickle cell trait, and pregnancy” without their consent or knowledge during a general employee health exam. I’m not sure how syphilis and pregnancy got lumped in with sickle cell trait (a carrier), but requiring any such test is considered an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment. The sickle cell request also violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by singling out employees of African ancestry. Read More 
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Is Transgender Identity Inherited?

The recent return of the "which bathroom?" issue regarding transgender individuals’ use of public restrooms has made me think about how I’ve handled sex and gender in my human genetics textbook. Over the editions, the two topics have diverged. And that’s at the crux of misunderstanding. Read More 
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