Blood test on mother for foe­tus


A SIM­PLE blood test de­vel­oped at UniSA could soon be used to pick up a wide range of foetal ab­nor­mal­i­ties, from cys­tic fi­bro­sis to in­her­ited car­diac prob­lems and spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy.

The test would be safer than in­va­sive pro­ce­dures that risk mis­car­riages.

Re­searchers have iso­lated “ex­tremely rare” foetal cells from ma­ter­nal blood – about one in every mil­lion cells – us­ing a tiny de­vice that lets them ac­cu­rately test for al­most any po­ten­tial ge­netic prob­lem in a baby.

De­spite its size, the spe­cial de­sign of the de­vice, known as “lab-on-a-chip”, al­lows large vol­umes of blood to be screened.

That paves the way for an ef­fi­cient, cheap and quick method of sep­a­rat­ing foetal cells from ma­ter­nal blood cells.

Biomed­i­cal en­gi­neer Dr Marnie Win­ter said it was hoped the de­vice could re­sult in a new, non-in­va­sive pre­na­tal di­ag­nos­tic test.

Cur­rent tests in­volve an in­va­sive am­nio­cen­te­sis pro­ce­dure, draw­ing fluid from the am­ni­otic sac around the foe­tus, or tak­ing a sam­ple of cells from the pla­centa. They carry a risk of in­duc­ing mis­car­riage.

“From about five weeks into the preg­nancy, foetal cells orig­i­nat­ing from the pla­centa can be found in a mother’s blood­stream,’’ Dr Win­ter said.

“Us­ing mod­ern mi­croflu­idic tech­nol­ogy, we can now iso­late these ex­tremely rare cells from the mother’s white blood cells and col­lect them for ge­netic analysis.”

Re­searchers adapted the de­vice from one ini­tially de­vel­oped to iso­late tu­mour cells from the blood of can­cer pa­tients.

“Many preg­nant women would be aware of the new tests based on cir­cu­lat­ing foetal DNA that, with a sim­ple blood test, help de­ter­mine the risk of hav­ing a baby with Down syn­drome,’’ Dr Win­ter said. “These tests have rev­o­lu­tionised pre­na­tal care, but they can only de­tect a small sub­set of ge­netic con­di­tions and are not al­ways ac­cu­rate.

“We hope this LOC (lab-ona-chip) tech­nol­ogy will be able to re­li­ably de­tect a greater range of ge­netic ab­nor­mal­i­ties, pro­vid­ing more in­for­ma­tion to fam­i­lies and health­care providers.”

Re­searchers are now col­lab­o­rat­ing with in­dus­try part­ners to trans­late the tech­nol­ogy into rou­tine clin­i­cal pre­na­tal di­ag­nos­tics.

The test, which Dr Win­ter hoped would be avail­able in the next five years, would be for screen­ing low and medium-risk preg­nan­cies and would be con­ducted at around 11 weeks into preg­nancy.

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