The Health Ministry has decided to subsidize a variety of genetic tests for pregnant women in Israel. The new initiative will enable women with high-risk pregnancies to undergo free advanced genetic testing designed for the prenatal diagnosis of genetic abnormalities.
Until now, many genetic tests were only available through private medical centers, at a cost of thousands of shekels.
The purpose of the ministry's new initiative is to set a clear procedure for those looking to undergo the advanced tests and to determine who is eligible for the testing, said Joel Zlotogora, who heads the Health Ministry's community genetics department.
Professor Avi Orr-Urtreger, Director of the Genetic Institute in Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center said that the new initiative is relevant to many children whose parents could not afford to undergo the expensive testing.
Once the new initiative is finalized, parents who are at a higher risk of carrying genetic diseases will be able to undergo the advanced testing prior to the child's birth, thus enabling them to receive a prenatal diagnosis of genetic abnormalities.
One of the additional changes listed in the ministry's memo, was the eligibility of women to undergo a test which will determine whether or not they carry a genetic mutation which could cause breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
As a result of the expanding of the genetic testing criteria, every sector in the population with a 10% chance of falling ill will undergo the advanced testing.
However, Prof. Orr-Urtreger explains that most of the rare genetic tests are still not subsidized, mainly because testing on one gene will rarely render an accurate diagnosis.
Most of the common diseases will be able to be diagnosed due to a general diagnosis of the gene, but specific mutations will be harder to detect.
"This is great progress. We have waited for this progress for years," said Prof. Orr-Urtreger, "but it is important to understand that Israel is just aligning itself with the rest of the western world on this matter. We're not making any breakthroughs."
Another test which is set to be subsidized is the chromosomal microarray analysis (CMA), which examines the entire genome, homing in on tiny variations in DNA sequences, and may offer more accurate diagnosis for autism or mental deficiency. The CMA test does not focus on one specific gene and therefore can detect 10%-20% of the causes for certain diseases.