Tay Sachs & Ashkenazim [European] Jews

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I chose to do this post on Tay Sachs and about how it is so prevalent in the Ashkenazim Jewish population, which means European Jewish individuals. The reason I chose this was because my ancestors were Jewish and from Europe, so there is a chance that I could be carrying this gene without realizing it, though chances are slim, since no one in my extended, nor immediate family has this disease.

Tay-Sachs is a disease that is the result of a genetic mutation; it is fatal and affects the central nervous system. It is the result of the HEXA gene, located on chromosome 15; what occurs is that children have the deficiency of the enzyme, Hex X. When this occurs, a fatty substance accumulates in in nerve cells of the brain.

There are two different kinds of this; infantile tay-sachs disease and late onset of tay-sachs disease. Infantile Tay-Sachs starts to show signs when the infant is around six months old; by age two, most children with this condition have seizures and decreasing mental state. This is fatal and death happens between the ages of five and eight years.

Late onset of Tay-Sachs disease, otherwise known as Chronic GM2-Gangliosidosis. Onset of this second form usually during adolescence, but has the ability to occur during prepubescence as well. Symptoms associated with this are tremors, slurred speech, and poor coordination.

Currently, there is no treatment for Tay-Sachs, health care professions are only able to help the patient with their reoccurring symptoms.Blood tests are the only way to test to see if a fetus has the disorder.

The only reason race plays a role, with regards to Tay-Sachs and Jewish individuals, is due to the fact that this specific disease only affects the European Jewish population, which is primarily composed of individuals who are Caucasian. An example of race playing a role with disease, is this one, or when you look at the prevalence of African Americans that have Sickle Cell Disease. Individually, your health doesn’t play a role in a person getting Tay-Sachs, since you can only get it from your genetics, not from the lifestyle that you lead. An example of this could include heart disease, which you can obtain from having poor diet and no exercise. Lastly, genetics plays a prominent role in this disease, because you can only get it if you inherit it from your parents. Another example of genetics playing a role in disease, could be considered color blindness, or certain forms of cancers such as breast cancer.






1 thought on “Tay Sachs & Ashkenazim [European] Jews

  1. Tay-Sachs does not only affect the Ashkenazim Jewish population, it is just more prevalent in that group than in others. What I think you missed here is explaining why it was more prevalent in Ashkenazim Jews. When talking about genetic diseases, the relationship they have with “race” is not that the color of someone’s skin makes them more susceptible to having a disease; it is that certain diseases become more prevalent in different populations for one reason or another, which make the people of that population and their descendants more likely to have that disease. In the case of Tay-Sachs among Ashkenazim Jews, it is believed that the rate of Tay-Sachs is so high because being heterozygous for the disease gives the person some protection against Tuberculosis, and the living conditions of the Ashkenazim Jews at the time when TB was most rampant made them extremely vulnerable. At the time when this was happening, Jewish people were made to live in ghettos which were small, dirty, and crowded, perfect conditions for the spread of disease. Other populations that were not as affected by TB did not need to develop Tay-Sachs as a defense. This shows that the relationship between race, genetics, and health is that “race” can give us an idea of ancestry which tells us which genetic diseases are more prevalent in the population that the person descended from, telling us which diseases the person is more at risk of having than people of different ancestry.
    I think that talking about race in clinical studies is useful as far as it gives us an idea of who is more at risk for certain diseases, so that the people can be tested. This testing could be useful in treating diseases the person has if it was previously undiagnosed and in genetic counseling for people hoping to have children. A better way of talking about health disparities would be to emphasize that people do not have diseases because of their skin color but that they are more likely to get it because they are more likely to be descended from a population where the disease was prevelant.

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