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Study Reports Father’s Age Could be tied to a Child’s Health

Update Date: Jun 07, 2013 03:24 PM EDT

Due to shifts in society, the picture of an American family has changed dramatically. Not only are parent-dynamics changing, how and when babies are conceived continue to change as well. According to a new study, fathers who have babies at an older age could potentially be increasing their children's risk of developing genetic illnesses. This study, headed by researchers from the University of Southern California (USC), discovered that the older the father, the more likely the child will have Noonan syndrome.

Noonan syndrome is a genetically inherited disease that could lead to craniofacial abnormalities, short structure, heart defects, intellectual disability, or blood cancers. Nearly one in every 1,000 to 2,000 live births are affected by this syndrome, and the latest study reveals that new Noonan gene mutations are occuring in 1 in every 4,000 births. Researchesr also linked the  likelihood of getting this syndrome to the father's age.

The research team studied 15 sets of healthy testes from male adults that were not born with Noonan syndrome. The researchers discovered that the overall number of mutated cells that could be responsible for this genetic illness increased along with the participant's age. When men get older, their chances of having mutated cells increase. Once these cells have mutated, the abnormal cells continue to reproduce. Not only are these mutated cells reproducing, the researchers found that ironically, these cells tend to have an edge over healthy cells.

"There is competition between stem cells with and without the mutation in each individual testis," said Norman Arnheim, who holds a joint at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Arnheim worked with Peter Calabrese and they are both USC Dornsife molecular and computational biologists. "But what is also unusual in this case is that the mutation which confers the advantage to testis stem cells is disadvantageous to any offspring that inherits it."

The research team also found that the mutations were mostly concentrated in the testis region. These findings could provide more insight into how genetic illnesses are inherited and why some illnesses might be rising.

The study was published in The American Journal of Human Genetics

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