Genetic conditions could soon be diagnosed in unborn babies using just a blood test from the mum-to-be. Scientists are working on a test that enables them to piece together the genome of the foetus from fragments found in the mum’s blood.
The test allows doctors to screen the genome of the unborn baby for genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome. Current tests for this and other genetic illnesses are invasive and carry a slightly increased risk of miscarriage. The research team hopes this test will offer potential parents early and safe diagnosis if they are at a high risk of passing on disabling conditions.
Dr Dennis Lo, the lead researcher, explained, “This information is important because it demonstrates that a non-invasive genome wide scan of the foetal genome from the mum’s blood plasma is possible.”
However, the test also raises ethical concerns.
“Clearly, there are benefits in terms of specific tests that can be done in a safer way,” said Dr Helen Wallace, from GeneWatch UK. “But the danger is that the test will be used to predict the risk of a range of diseases and even personality and many of these predictions will be misleading.”
The test costs £125,000 per baby at present but is expected to come down in price in the future.