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New Pregnancy Blood Test To Detect Down's Syndrome Approved For NHS By National Screening Committee

15/01/2016 10:27 GMT | Updated 15/01/2016 15:59 GMT

The NHS is one step closer to offering pregnant women, who have an increased chance of having a baby with Down's syndrome, a new test to detect the genetic condition.

The National Screening Committee (UK NSC) approved the new blood test - known as non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT).

Currently women are only offered a test that is considered "highly invasive", where a needle is inserted into the womb to take a genetic sample. This test carries a risk of miscarriage.

The UK NSC said women with a one in 150 chance or greater of having a baby with Down's syndrome, Patau's syndrome or Edwards' syndrome will be offered this newer test.

blood test

Although the National Screening Committee has approved the test, it still needs to be given final approval by the government before it can be rolled out on the NHS.

Lead author of the study, Lyn Chitty, professor of genetics and fetal medicine at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital, told the Telegraph: "The NIPT test offers expectant mothers greater accuracy in screening for Down’s Syndrome with the use of a simple blood test.

"Introducing NIPT into NHS maternity care means that more women can be safely reassured about the health of their baby without having an invasive test which increases the risk of miscarriage."

With the new test, a blood sample is taken from the mother and analysed for DNA belonging to the unborn child. Results can received within five days.

Clare Murphy from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said this is "great news".

She told HuffPost UK Parents: "This test has been available privately for some time, but at a significant cost to women and their partners.

"It is great news that it may soon be available on the NHS to women at a higher risk of carrying a pregnancy affected by Down's syndrome.

"It will give these women highly accurate results on which to base their decision whether to continue or end the pregnancy, without the risk of suffering a miscarriage or a serious infection - as is the case with the current invasive test‎ that is offered.

"It often seems there are few significant breakthroughs in improving the care of pregnant women - this is one of them, and we hope ministers approve its roll-out as soon as possible."

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) called the new test "the most exciting development in pregnancy care for decades" during a pilot project in 2014.

pregnant woman

Professor Alan Cameron, vice president of Clinical Quality for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), was also pleased with the news.

He told HuffPost UK Parents: "The RCOG welcomes the news that non-invasive prenatal testing has been recommended for high-risk women on the NHS.

"This test is the most accurate and safest way of detecting diseases that may have potentially serious consequences, both enhancing the information available to pregnant women and reducing unnecessary invasive procedures.

"Should the test be rolled out, resources and training for healthcare professionals offering this testing will be necessary, in particular around communication and counselling expectant parents about the implications of the test results."

A Department of Health spokesperson said, according to The Mirror: "We welcome these important recommendations from the UK National Screening Committee, which have the potential to transform antenatal, bowel and cervical screening. We are now considering the recommendations."

However, Dr Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England, said a number of questions about the tests use had not been answered.

She told The Guardian: "We don't know how good the test is for other genetic conditions - Edwards' and Patau's syndromes - that are currently part of the programme, and the evidence review also found that up to 13% of the NIPTs carried out didn't give any result at all."

News of the test was made public in October 2015 when the results of a successful trial were released.

The trial of the new DNA test involved 11,692 women at King’s College Hospital, London and the Medway Maritime Hospital in Kent.

Three in five pregnant women at high risk of carrying a baby with the condition opted for the blood screening rather than the current testing.

Professor Kypros Nicolaides, who led the research, said according to the Mail Online: "We showed it can be integrated into standard NHS care and that women do accept it."

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