x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Study on genetic impact of older dads will add to debate, experts say

Sociologists caution that study offers new information, but questions linger.

DUBAI // Sociologists warn against jumping to conclusions about the findings of the study linking a father's age to genetic problems in his children.

Although the study brings attention to new information, there is still the question of environment, said Dr Habibul Khundker, a sociology professor at Zayed University.

Many people have genetic mutations but never develop associated disorders, he said. This is where environmental factors come in and can work as "triggers".

"There has been a long-standing debate of nurture versus nature," he said. "This study will only add to that debate."

The fact that children born to older parents are subject to problems is "common knowledge," Dr Khundker said. "In social science we also need to see the environment these kids grow up in."

Dr Shola Faniran, a developmental paediatrician at the Child Early Intervention Medical Centre in Dubai, said the study had potentially positive and negative outcomes.

"It's informative and can raise awareness about something we can do to prevent a devastating illness in future offspring," she said. "It allows you to be pre-emptive before you run into trouble."

The negative aspect is that it could lead to blame.

"This is wrong," she said. "The focus shouldn't be put on placing blame, but rather what we can do about it."

Not all cultural trends will change and some men marry late because of social circumstances, Dr Faniran said.

In these situations, decision-makers need to understand what these circumstances are and offer an alternative.

It is also crucial to set up an infrastructure that helps support the children who are at risk, including good, affordable nursery care, ways to screen for the disorders and dedicated centres to help these kinds of children.

Both the Dubai Autism Centre and the Emirates Autism Centre in Abu Dhabi, for example, are at full capacity.

The situation is the same where Dr Faniran works.

"The demand at our centre is huge," she said. "Parents come to us to get the appropriate type of therapy but they have to go on the wait list. It makes it really stressful for the family.

"Providing education that cuts across social communities and doesn't stigmatise is also key.

"It's great that we have this information, but what we do with it is important."