New pre-natal diagnosis could reduce risk of miscarriage | Action Medical Research

New pre-natal diagnosis could reduce risk of miscarriage

26 September 2000
Scientists are investigating an exciting alternative to pre-natal tests, thanks to a cash injection from leading medical research charity, Action Research. Mums-to-be are currently offered the traditional method in which a needle is inserted inside the womb (amniocentesis or chorion villus sampling). These procedures, currently only offered to women an increased risk of a genetic condition, carry a 1-2% risk of miscarriage. However, in a new two-year study funded by Action Research - famous for its efforts to overcome many childhood diseases and disabilities - London experts will be developing a new non-invasive method which doesn’t threaten the baby in such a way. The research project of almost £98,000, based at both the Department of Maternal & Fetal Medicine, at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, and the Department of Haematology, at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, will involve analysing special fetal cells only found in the mother’s blood during early pregnancy, following a recent breakthrough. Professor Nicholas Fisk, of the Imperial College School of Medicine, Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, explains: ‘The reality is that most women offered a chance of pre-natal diagnosis opt for it, which puts a fetus, with an abnormality or not, at risk. ‘One option to avoid this is to analyse a sample of the mother’s blood since it usually contains a small number of fetal cells - known as haemopoietic stem cells.’ However, to date it has been impossible to detect these clearly because all fetal cell types are also found in the mother’s own blood. ‘Therefore, it’s like trying to look for a fetal needle in a maternal haystack’, says Professor Fisk. Following an encouraging discovery of a primitive cell only present in fetal blood during the first trimester, the Action Researchers have now developed a method to make it more identifiable. This entails isolating the cells and expanding them into pure fetal DNA, from which an accurate fetal diagnosis could then be made. Professor Fisk adds: ‘The success of this procedure may introduce pre-natal testing for genetic and chromosome abnormalities which will avoid the risk of miscarriages. This in turn may assist with early treatments to reduce or prevent disability in utero, or offer parents early counselling advice.’ Towards the end of the project, the team aim to predict the sex of the fetus by using the new non-invasive method. Action Research funds numerous projects focusing on babies and infants, including pregnancy complications. The charity launched its Touching Lives campaign earlier this year, which aims to raise £1.5m for vital medical research to benefit children and families across the UK. Visit the website at For further information, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email
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