Prenatal screening and diagnostic tests provide valuable information about the unborn baby’s health. They help detect problems that could affect the baby, such as abnormalities and genetic disorders, helping better health care decisions before and after the child is born.
Scientists at Plymouth University have developed a non-invasive, low risk and accurate blood test that can detect fetal blood group, sex, and genetic conditions in unborn babies. Although fetal blood grouping and sexing using maternal blood has been done for over a decade, this research provides a much more accurate and sensitive method of detecting fetal DNA.
Routine prenatal screening tests include ultrasonography and blood tests for complete blood count (CBC), blood type and Rh factor, urinalysis, and hepatitis B and C. These tests can reveal the possibility of a problem like an increased risk of the baby having Down syndrome. Diagnostic tests can identify such conditions and abnormalities and are safe and very accurate. They can also sometimes help determine whether more invasive prenatal genetic tests are necessary. However, invasive diagnostic tests are not routinely offered to all women as they come with a risk – though minor – of miscarriage.
The new test offers many advantages over traditional prenatal tests:
- It is a very accurate and sensitive method of detecting foetal DNA, thereby opening up possibilities to detect other conditions
- It more cost-effective than the existing non-invasive methods
- It can be carried out on mothers at risk of X-linked genetic recessive diseases including hemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy and mothers at risk of hemolytic disease of the new-born
- As it uses a blood sample taken at the mother’s first appointment with the physician, it avoids the need for multiple appointments and promotes optimal resource use
- Avoids the need for invasive techniques of amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling
According to a news report in EurekAlert, the lead corresponding author of the study said, “The technique represents a comparatively low-risk method for the early identification of a number of conditions, which in turn will aid earlier diagnosis and possible therapies to the potential benefit of both mother and child. It is important to emphasize that the objective of such a test is to contribute to clinical management -b in such testing strategies termination is never a consideration.”