Rome, Italy: Researchers in The Netherlands believe they are on the verge of developing a simple, prenatal blood test that would be able to detect accurately chromosomal abnormalities in the developing foetus. At present, the only reliable way to do this is through amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, both of which are invasive and carry the risk of triggering a miscarriage.
Dr Suzanna Frints, a clinical geneticist at Maastricht University Medical Centre (Maastricht, The Netherlands), will tell the 26th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Rome today (Tuesday), that she and her colleagues have been able to use molecular genetic probes to detect DNA belonging to the foetus in blood samples taken from pregnant women.
So far, they have been successful in identifying DNA from the Y chromosome, indicating that the foetus is a boy and therefore could be at risk of inheriting an X-linked disorder such as Duchenne's muscular dystrophy and haemophilia. 
The researchers believe the same method can be used to detect trisomy 21 (where an extra chromosome 21 causes Down's syndrome) and they are investigating this next, followed by trisomy 13 and 18 (responsible for causing Patau and Edward's syndromes respectively). 
Dr Frints and her colleagues are using the "Multiplex Ligation-dependent Probe Amplification" (MLPA), technique to detect foetal DNA that is present in the blood of women who have been pregnant for at least six to eight weeks. The MLPA test is part of an existing kit that is already used around the world to detect chromosomal abnormalities in invasively obtained amniotic fluid or chorionic villi samples from pregnant women. The kit is cheap and fast, delivering results within 24-62 hours, but, until now, it has only been used on samples taken during invasive procedures; it was not known whether it would work on cell free foetal DNA circulating in blood samples of pregnan
|Contact: Emma Mason|
European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology