DNA technology provides a new avenue to perform neonatal screening tests for single-gene diseases in populations of high frequency. Thalassemia is one of the high-frequency single-gene disorders affecting Singapore and many countries in the malaria belt. The authors explored the feasibility of using PCR-based diagnostic screening on 1,116 unselected sequential cord blood samples for neonatal screening. The cord blood samples were screened for the most common reported alpha- and beta-thalassemia mutations in each ethnic group (Chinese, Malays, and Indians) in a multiracial population. The carrier frequency for alpha-thalassemia mutations was about 6.4% in the Chinese (alpha deletions = 3.9%, alpha deletions = 2.5%), 4.8% in Malays, and 5.2% in Indians. Only alpha deletions were observed in the Chinese. The carrier frequency for beta-thalassemia mutations was 2.7% in the Chinese, 6.3% in Malays, and 0.7% in Indians. Extrapolating to the population distribution of Singapore, the authors found a higher overall expected carrier frequency for alpha- and beta-thalassemia mutations of 9% compared with a previous population study of 6% by phenotype. The highly accurate results make this molecular epidemiologic screening an ideal method to screen for and prevent severe thalassemia in high-risk populations.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.