New non-invasive, prenatal blood for high-risk mothers

New non-invasive, prenatal blood for high-risk mothers

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ATLANTA -

Pregnancy can be an uneasy time. It can be especially for women who are considered to be "high risk." Shavonne Zailcamp, who recently spoke with FOX 5 Health Reporter Beth Galvin, is one of those women.

A new non-invasive test is helping to provide Shavonne with some of the answers she needs about her pregnancy.

Shavonne says she thought she'd have to undergo an invasive screening test called amniocentesis. The medical procedure is used in prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal abnormalities and fetal infections, as well as gender determination of the fetus.

Shavonne, who's 35 and pregnant with her first baby, says she knows that at her age there's an increased risk of having a baby with Down syndrome or another chromosomal defect.

The expectant mother went to Dr. Dexter Page, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies at Emory University Hospital. Shavonne says she had one question: Is her baby okay?

"Because I'm considered high risk for Down Syndrome, and different abnormalities, so it was bigger concern of mine," she said.

An ultrasound showed Dr. Page how Shavonne's baby is developing. However, with some of his patients, the doctor says he needs a closer look.

"Just in general, for patients that come to our office, there is a lot of anxiety.  Most of the patients referred to us due to the fact there is a concern something might not be going well with their pregnancy," the doctor said.

The amniocentesis is often the test that follows. A needle is inserted into Shavonne's belly to collect a sample of fetal cells from her amniotic fluid. Then, the sample is screened from chromosomal conditions, like Down syndrome and Trisomy 18 and 21. Still, the procedure is considered invasive.

Dr. Page said, "The concern with any invasive procedure is there always is a chance of miscarriage."

Shavonne said, "I wasn't too excited about that, that's why I chose a different route."

A much easier route: a blood test.

Instead of collecting cells from her amniotic fluid, the Harmony prenatal test harvests them from Shavnone's circulating blood. Those cells are studied in a lab for an excess of or missing chromosomes. It provides Dr. Page with a blueprint of Shavonne's baby's development.

She said, "It's the same thing, it's going to give me the same results, and it's not as painful; and, I don't have something that's high-risk for my baby."

Non-invasive pre-natal tests have limits. They won't detect neural serum defects, like spinal bifida. But, Dr. Page says they're highly accurate and give expectant parents some much-needed answers.

Dr. Page says the blood test is only being offered to women considered to be high-risk, for now. But, he says there are several ongoing clinical trials to determine if the test is an effective tool for screening low-risk expectant mothers.

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