Questions for a genetic counselor

Seattle Sperm Bank recently brought a certified genetic counselor on staff to answer all your genetics-related questions. Katherine Hornberger, MS, CGC, our certified genetic counselor previously worked for a top IVF clinic and a genetic testing laboratory. With over five years of experience in reproductive medicine, she is ready to help you find the perfect sperm donor.

What is a genetic counselor anyways?

A genetic counselor is a medical professional with specialized training in medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors help patients understand genetic risks and make decisions about their reproductive options and genetic health.

What does a genetic counselor at a sperm bank do?

Katherine reviews new donor applications, particularly the personal and family medical history and genetic testing results for each donor. Katherine reviews each donor application to confirm that the donor is healthy and has no known history that would suggest a hereditary disease.

Katherine is available to talk with recipients and clinics regarding donors’ medical histories and carrier screening results. If you have genetics-related questions about the donors at Seattle Sperm Bank you are encouraged to schedule an appointment with Katherine using her calendar here:

What is carrier screening and why is it important?

Carrier screening is a genetic test used to determine if a healthy person is a carrier of one or more recessive or X-linked genetic diseases. Carrier screening provides information about an individual’s reproductive risk and their chances of having a child with a genetic disease. All sperm donors complete the Myriad Foresight® Carrier Screen before qualifying to donate. This test includes screening for 175 diseases.

It is important to know that most people are found to be a carrier of at least one condition. Being a carrier does not affect your health in almost all cases. If you are a carrier of a recessive disease, you have a 50% chance to pass your genetic variant on to each future child. If a child inherits two genetic variants, one from the sperm source and one from the egg source, in the same gene, the child will be at risk to develop that specific disease. Carrier screening can be used to help identify a sperm donor who is a good genetic match, meaning that your future children would be at a reduced risk for all 175 genetic conditions included on the test.

If a donor is completely negative for all 175 diseases, there is a significantly reduced risk for offspring from that donor to be affected with any of those diseases, even if the egg source is a carrier.

If the donor is determined to be a carrier of one or more recessive diseases, screening of the egg source for those specific conditions is advisable. If the sperm source and egg source are not carriers of the same condition, the risk for an affected child will be small.
Our genetic counselor can help answer any questions you have about donors’ carrier screening results and can even help you undergo carrier screening so you can understand your reproductive risks and options.

How much do you know about a donor’s family history and what can you share with me?

All donor applicants complete an extensive personal and family medical history questionnaire. We collect a four-generation family history- meaning we ask about the health of the donor’s children (if any), the donor and his siblings and cousins, the donor’s parents and aunts and uncles, and the donor’s grandparents. We ask the donor to report any medical conditions in each of these individuals and ask about dozens of specific conditions including autism, cancer, mental illness, autoimmune diseases, and many more. Family history is one way that we can determine if a donor has an increased risk to pass on conditions to offspring. Many donors are disqualified based on their family history. If you have any questions about your donor’s family history you can always discuss it in detail with Katherine by scheduling an appointment here:

What are the limitations of genetic testing on sperm donors and what does it mean for my future children?

Even though Seattle Sperm Bank completes an expanded carrier panel that includes 175 genetic diseases on all donors, it does not cover everything. There are hundreds of different genetic conditions known to humankind and there is no test that can screen for all of these conditions. While the odds are in your favor to have a healthy baby, as long as you and your chosen donor are not carriers of the same condition and you do not have a history of hereditary disease, there is still a small chance that a baby could be born with a birth defect or genetic syndrome. Approximately 3-6% of babies are born with a birth defect and this risk remains, regardless of how you conceive and which screening you and/or your donor completed.

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