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Shaler funeral home 1st in the state to offer DNA banking

| Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
At the Perman Funeral Home in Shaler, funeral director Frank Perman holds a framed display of the four business licenses he is required to renew every two years.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
At the Perman Funeral Home in Shaler, funeral director Frank Perman holds a framed display of the four business licenses he is required to renew every two years.
At the Perman Funeral Home in Shaler, funeral director Frank Perman stands in front of a wall of framed documents, including the four state business licenses, left, that he must renew every two years,
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
At the Perman Funeral Home in Shaler, funeral director Frank Perman stands in front of a wall of framed documents, including the four state business licenses, left, that he must renew every two years,

For Etna resident Andrew Weckman, saving his father's hereditary records through DNA banking brought him peace of mind.

Joseph Ray Weckman, who died in October 2014, was adopted and did not know his birth parents, so Andrew Weckman, 26, did not have a comprehensive medical history for his father. The younger Weckman opted to have his father's DNA preserved through a new process being offered at Perman Funeral Home.

“I wanted to get my dad's sample of DNA to see if there are any health concerns I should be aware of,” said Weckman, adding he was concerned both for his health and the health of his future children.

Perman Funeral Home in Shaler has become the first funeral home in the state to offer DNA banking services through a company called DNA Memorial, owner Frank Perman said. DNA banking saves the deceased's DNA and preserves it at room temperature indefinitely.

When people are cremated, their DNA is destroyed. And although bodies can be exhumed after burial, it's emotionally and financially costly, Perman said.

“DNA degrades at about 400 degrees, and cremation takes place at about 1,800 degrees,” Perman said. “DNA that is stored can be kept forever and analyzed over and over again as the mysteries of human genes continue to be uncovered.”

Perman Funeral Home is partnered with DNA Memorial, a company based in Toronto that uses a proprietary method for saving DNA at room temperature indefinitely.

The DNA is extracted through a cheek swab or hair follicle by the funeral director. The sample then is sent to DNA Memorial's lab and purified, and the DNA is bonded to a rock-like substance.

“That bond is very stable and will last indefinitely,” said Brad Marsh, brand manager for DNA Memorial.

DNA primarily is saved for medical and genealogical reasons, Marsh said. It can be used for a variety of things, such as diagnosing hereditary illnesses, calculating inherited risks for children, finding biological relatives and identifying a person's ethnic background.

“It's quite cutting edge,” Marsh said. “It never really mattered in the past, but now, we're in the age of genetics, and they're doing so much with DNA now. It's the ultimate in family history for medicine.”

Marsh said DNA Memorial works with about 20 funeral homes in the United States and almost 30 in Canada. Perman Funeral Home is the first in Pennsylvania to partner with DNA Memorial.

The DNA can be stored at DNA Memorial's secure facility for $600, or it can be sent back to the family in a small glass vial after it's processed for $300, Perman said. He began offering the service officially in October.

For more information on DNA banking, contact Perman Funeral Home at 412-486-3600.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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