What if you could know your baby will be born with genetic abnormality? If there is the probability that a baby is going to die within the first six months of a short and painful life, you might make a different decision.
By the look of things, there is a good chance future soon-to-be parents will know quite a bit about their prenatal babies. Conventional methods for checking a fetus’s genome for abnormalities require invasive procedures, such as using a needle to withdraw some amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus or some cells from the placenta, methods that can sometimes cause a miscarriage.
These tests mainly focus on abnormal numbers of certain chromosomes (such as the condition that causes Down syndrome) and are offered only to women with high-risk pregnancies. But much more could be gleaned from the fetal DNA floating in mom’s blood, and some believe that such tests will soon be available to many women. The first company to offer prenatal screening from a mother’s blood was Sequenom, which made its MaterniT21 test available in October 2011. Last year, doctors used Sequenom’s test to screen more than 60,000 pregnancies for abnormal numbers of chromosomes.
The technology stands to change the whole of prenatal medicine, says Nancy Rose, a clinical geneticist who chaired the joint-opinion committee. “This is a very early use of the technology and it will only get better,” says Rose.
As the technical advances come, the ethical issues remain to be addressed. How do families handle knowing that their unborn child carries a genetic risk that may cause problems only late in life compared to mutations that will likely cause an early death? See full story here.