What is the clinical validity and utility of preconception Expanded Carrier Screening (ECS) application on the management of prospective parents?
The high detection rate of at-risk couples (ARCs) and the high proportion opting for IVF/preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) treatment demonstrate the clinical utility of ECS in the preconception space in IVF and general population.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY
About 2–4% of couples are at risk of conceiving a child with an autosomal recessive or X-linked genetic disorder. In recent years, the increasing cost-effectiveness of genetic diagnostic techniques has allowed the creation of ECS panels for the simultaneous detection of multiple recessive disorders. Comprehensive preconception genetic screening holds the potential to significantly improve couple’s genetic risk assessment and reproductive planning to avoid detectable inheritable genetic offspring.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION
A total of 3877 individuals without a family history of genetic conditions were analyzed between January 2017 and January 2020. Of the enrolled individuals, 1212 were gamete donors and 2665 were patients planning on conceiving from both the IVF and the natural conception group. From the non-donor cohort, 1133 were analyzed as individual patients, while the remaining ones were analyzed as couples, for a total of 766 couples.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS
A focused ECS panel was developed following American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology ACOG-recommended criteria (prevalence, carrier rate, severity), including highly penetrant severe childhood conditions. Couples were defined at-risk when both partners carried an autosomal recessive pathogenic/likely pathogenic variant (PLP) on the same gene or when the woman was a carrier of an X-linked PLP variant. ARC detection rate defined the clinical validity of the ECS approach. Clinical utility was evaluated by monitoring ARCs reproductive decision making.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE
A total of 402 individuals (10.4%) showed PLP for at least one of the genes tested. Among the 766 couples tested, 173 showed one carrier partner (22.6%), whereas 20 couples (2.6%) were found to be at increased risk. Interestingly, one ARC was identified as a result of cascade testing in the extended family of an individual carrying a pathogenic variant on the Survival Of Motor Neuron 1SMN1 gene. Of the identified ARCs, 5 (0.7%) were at risk for cystic fibrosis, 5 (0.7%) for fragile X syndrome, 4 (0.5%) for spinal muscular atrophy, 4 (0.5%) for Beta-Thalassemia/Sickle Cell Anemia, 1 (0.1%) for Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome and 1 (0.1%) for Duchenne/Becker Dystrophy. Fifteen ARCs were successfully followed up from both the IVF and the natural conception groups. All of these (15/15) modified their reproductive planning by undergoing ART with Preimplantation Genetic Testing for Monogenic disease and Aneuploidies (PGT-M and PGT-A). To date, 6/15 (40%) couples completed their PGT cycle with euploid/unaffected embryos achieving a pregnancy after embryo transfer and three of them have already had an unaffected baby.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION
The use of a limited panel of core gene-disease pairs represents a limitation on the research perspective as it can underestimate the rate of detectable carriers and ARCs in this cohort of prospective parents. Expanding the scope of ECS to a larger panel of conditions is becoming increasingly feasible, thanks to a persistent technological evolution and progressive cataloging of gene–disease associations.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS
These results highlight the potential clinical validity and utility of ECS in reducing the risk of a pregnancy affected by a detectable inheritable genetic condition. The steady reduction in the costs of genetic analyses enables the expansion of monogenic testing/screening applications at the preimplantation stage, thus, providing valid decisional support and reproductive autonomy to patients, particularly in the context of IVF.
STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S)
No external funding was used for this study. A.C., M.F., S.C., M.P., L.G., and C.P. are employees of Igenomix Italy. C.S. is the head of the scientific board of Igenomix.
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