New Pre-Natal Test Promises Array of Results in Early Pregnancy


A wide range of foetal genetic abnormalities could soon be detected in early pregnancy using “lab-on-a-chip” non-invasive technology. Australian researchers have isolated foetal cells from maternal blood using a tiny microfluidic device, allowing for improved genetic testing.


Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technology integrates laboratory functions on a chip ranging from a few millimetres to a few square centimetres. The special design of the device allows large volumes of blood to be screened, paving the way for an efficient, cheap and quick method of separating foetal cells from maternal blood cells.


From about five weeks into the pregnancy, foetal cells originating from the placenta can be found in a mother’s bloodstream. Isolating these extremely rare cells (about one in a million) from the mother’s white blood cells allows them to be analysed. This raises the prospect of new, non-invasive, prenatal diagnostic tests able to detect a wide range of genetic abnormalities in early pregnancy from a simple blood sample.


Similar tests based on circulating foetal DNA are already used to determine the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome. But these tests can only detect a small subset of genetic conditions and are not always accurate.


The scientists behind the development are hopeful that the tests can be used in routine clinical prenatal diagnostics and to screen low and medium-risk pregnancies.

Science Today. July 11.

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