Thalassemia is a significant health problem worldwide. There are two main classifications, α- and β-thalassemias, which are usually caused by the defective synthesis of the α-globin, and which are commonly caused by different mutations of the β-globin chain. Different hemoglobin mutations have been identified to date. Thalassemias can result in profound anemia from early life and, if not treated with regular blood transfusions, can lead to death in the first year. Prenatal diagnosis of thalassemia is the essential part of preventive medicine and is currently dependent on the use of invasive diagnostic tests within the first 2 months of pregnancy. These diagnostic techniques carry a small but significant risk of fetal loss up to 1%. Molecular diagnostic methods have been developed for genotyping thalassemias based on PCR techniques and high-throughput technologies. Noninvasive tests using cell-free DNA (cfDNA) from a maternal blood sample is also an alternative method, thus eliminating the risk of miscarriage. This chapter summarizes the current invasive approaches and the noninvasive methods using cell-free fetal DNA as new molecular diagnostic methods for genotypic diagnosis of thalassemia in clinical practice. Prevention strategies that encompass carrier screening, genetic counseling, and prenatal diagnosis are discussed.
Part of the book: Thalassemia and Other Hemolytic Anemias