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Prenatal Blood Testing Could Detect Fetal Disorders

November 26, 2008
National Partnership for Women & Families

A noninvasive prenatal blood test could detect whether a fetus will have genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, according to a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the Wall Street Journal reports. Prenatal diagnoses of such disorders currently are possible through amniocentesis, a procedure that involves inserting a needle into the uterus and carries a small risk of miscarriage, the Journal reports (Naik, Wall Street Journal, 11/25).

According to Reuters, new tests could be developed because of a discovery by Dennis Lo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and colleagues that found fetal DNA circulates in maternal blood. For the study, Lo and colleagues used digital blood testing technology to count abnormal DNA sequences in the pregnant woman's plasma to determine the number of abnormal genes inherited by the fetus and the fetus' probability of developing a genetic disorder. Lo noted that the accuracy of the test depends on the concentration of fetal DNA in maternal blood (Tan, Reuters, 11/25).

Lo said that although the test currently is expensive and inefficient, it is "proof" that the technique can be used to diagnose fetal disorders. He added that his results will need to be replicated in a larger study and that any clinical test will not be available for a minimum of three years (Wall Street Journal, 11/25).

2008 National Partnership for Women & Families. Reprinted with permission

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