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The old order Amish located in Lancaster County Pennsylvania have been plagued with a number of genetic disorders. Today you will find a rather bizarre combination of a hitching post (the kind use for a horse and buggy) in front of a facility that has a state of the art Ion Torrent DNA sequencer. The name of this facility is “The Clinic for Special Children” and the doctors go about solving the issues each child is challenged with.
It is easy to become confused about the technologies the Amish welcome into their community and the forms that they choose not to utilize. They have united to support this clinic and it’s advanced testing for the last thirty years as it is seen as bringing people together in “fellowship”. The insulated population works in favor of the clinic because there is much less genetic variation and the number of mutations to focus on are small.
The Amish in Lancaster County started with a small founding population and continued to marry one another for generations within their community. The result has been a disturbing amount of rare diseases. This pediatric practice has learned how to test on a molecular basis for 121 heritable genetic diseases common in the populations they serve. The annual discovery rate is about 5 – 15 new genetic diseases a year at this clinic. The Amish have unusually high rates and unusual forms of dwarfism, hearing issues, retina detachment, angelman syndrome and metabolic disorders.
The Clinic for Special Children was started in 1989 by Holmes Morton. A well timed article in The Wall Street Journal provided the support in terms of donations to get his project off the ground. Hewlett-Packard sent over some necessary equipment and hundreds of thousands dollars came in from readers when they heard about a Clinic being raised within Horse and Buggy distance of a well establish Amish community.