San Francisco To Get a Genetics Center

By Talia Bloch

Published August 05, 2005, issue of August 05, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Four years ago, Michael Rancer, an administrator at the University of California, Berkeley, lost his son to familial dysautonomia, a rare genetic disorder found among Ashkenazic Jews that causes the nervous system to deteriorate. Today, Rancer is one of the prime movers behind a proposed new center for Jewish genetic diseases in San Francisco that is expected to open by the end of the year.

“It would be the only center west of the Hudson River that would be comprehensive,” Rancer said. “It would not just do testing and screening and patient care, but education, outreach and clinical and laboratory research, as well.” It would, in fact, be the only center dedicated to Jewish genetic diseases, in any capacity, west of Chicago.

Around the time of his son’s death, Rancer learned that a screening test for F.D. had become available. So he went to speak with Dr. Seymour Packman, director of the University of California, San Francisco Stanford Lysosomal Disease Center, which focuses on a class of genetic diseases that includes some of those for which Ashkenazic Jews are at greater risk, although not F.D. “We had a number of conversations and we said, ‘What about a Jewish genetic disease center?’” Rancer recalled.

The new center, like the Lysosomal Disease Center, will be a joint project of the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University. No new construction is needed, as it will draw on the offices, labs and pool of researchers and clinicians already working at both universities. According to Rancer, an initial three-year program has been laid out with a $4 million budget. Rancer has embarked on fund raising, approaching foundations, he said, that have a history of supporting medical research, UCSF and Stanford. The proposed center also hopes to capitalize on California’s new $3 billion stem-cell research program.

Packman is director of Biochemical Genetics Services at the UCSF half of the Lysosomal Disease Center and will serve as medical director of the Jewish genetic disease center along with his counterpart at Stanford, Dr. Gregory Enns. He described the center as a unique venture because it puts “in one package” a number of medical subspecialties. In addition to the geneticists and genetics counselors usually

available at such centers, Packman foresees collaborating with all departments, from cardiology to gynecology to psychology, according to patient and research needs.

“The funding is really to support several things,” Packman said, including two genetic counselors at each university, clinical and lab research, community outreach, and physician and patient education.

Packman also emphasized that by serving Northern California, the center will be serving a significant portion of the American population over a wide area. Northern California contains 5% of the U.S. population and, in square miles, is almost the size of New England and New York state combined. “We are talking about reaching communities and physicians who are up to eight hours away,” he said. “Our raison d’être is not the testing. Someone may be tested in Eureka, but we want to be the single center where someone comes to us for comprehensive care: diagnosis, counseling, research.” Ultimately, Packman and his colleagues hope the new center will serve the entire Pacific Northwest.

“There are one million Jews living in California today,” Rancer said, “more than anywhere in the U.S. besides New York.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.