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Scientists have discovered that fetal DNA is present in the mother’s blood stream, which means that it is possible to blood test mothers in order to detect genetic abnormalities in their babies. With that knowledge, researchers from Greece, Cyprus and the UK have developed a blood test that can accurately detect Down syndrome in developing babies.
There are currently blood tests available that detect biomarkers for Down syndrome but these only estimate the likelihood of the disorder and cannot say definitely whether the baby has Down syndrome.
The Combined Test
The combined test, given between 11 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, consists of a blood test that checks for pregnancy-associated plasma protein, which is produced by the placenta. In pregnancies with Down syndrome babies, the level of these proteins is reduced. The test also checks for beta human chorionic gonadotrophin (beta hCG), which is present in raised amounts in affected pregnancies.
A Nuchal translucency scan will also be given, which is an ultrasound scan to check the amount of fluid present under the skin on the back of the baby’s neck. It is normal to have some fluid, but in Down syndrome babies, this amount is increased. This combined test can estimate the risk of your baby having the condition but it can’t actually tell you whether he or she has it or not.
CVS and Amniocentesis
If the combined test results show an increased risk, you will be offered either a chorionic villus sampling (CVS) test, where a sample of the placenta is taken for genetic testing, or an amniocentesis, where a sample of amniotic fluid is taken. These tests can provide a definite answer on whether your baby has Down syndrome but they are invasive and carry a risk of miscarriage.
For CVS the risk of miscarriage is two in every 100 pregnancies and for amniocentesis the risk is around one in 100. Other estimates say the risk is slightly lower but because of the risk, some pregnant women don’t want to have these tests.
Less Invasive Blood Test
The new genetic blood test offers a way of screening your baby for Down syndrome without putting him at risk.