Would you test your unborn baby for 3,500 genetic disorders?
American scientists have been able to predict the whole genetic code of a foetus by taking a blood test from a woman who was 18 weeks pregnant and a saliva swab from the father.
This insight into the DNA of an unborn baby can help scientists detect up to 3,500 genetic conditions.
Lead scientist, Dr Jay Shendure, believes this simple test will become widely available allowing doctors to screen babies for genetic disorders. He said, “This work opens up the possibility that we will be able to scan the whole genome of the foetus for more than 3,000 single-gene disorders through a single, non-invasive test.”
Currently, the only genetic disorder routinely tested for before birth on the NHS is Down’s Syndrome.
The test poses a safer alternative to the intrusive amniocentesis test that involves collecting amniotic fluid from the womb through a probe, which can be harmful to both mother and baby. Scientists say that in the future a less costly and more refined version of the procedure could provide a far more comprehensive pre-natal genetic test.
Jacob Kitzman, who worked on the project, added: “The improved resolution is like going from being able to see that two books are stuck together to being able to notice one word mis-spelled on a page.”
The scientists behind the recent development warn that the test could raise many ‘ethical questions’ as the results could be used as a grounds for abortion.
Pro-life campaigners echoed the concerns of the scientists from the University of Washington in Seattle, saying the test would inevitably lead to more abortions.
Founder of the Pro-Life Alliance, Josephine Quintavalle, has doubts about the recent development. She said, “One always hopes, vainly, that in utero testing will be for the benefit of the unborn child.
“But, whilst this new test may not itself be invasive, given our past track record, it is difficult to imagine that this new test will not lead to more abortions.”