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article imageBlood test can reveal baby's gender at 7 weeks

By Joan Firstenberg     Aug 9, 2011 in Health
Boston - A new study says a simple blood test done as early as seven weeks into a woman's pregnancy can predict the baby's gender. There are already tests but they take longer, they're usually invasive and they're unreliable and sometimes deadly.
The big difference between this test and others already on the market is that it is highly accurate if used correctly. The test itself analyzes the fetal DNA found in the mother's blood sample, weeks earlier than tests that exist today such as amniocentesis, ultrasound or kits that can be bought in drug stores.
The New York Times reports that the tests are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration because they are not used for medical purposes.
A co-author of the sex-determination report, Dr. Diana Bianchi, executive director of the Mother Infant Research Institute, as well as a professor of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston say, "A very important aspect of the study is how this advances prenatal care.”
According to the Times, Dr. Bianchi says she realizes the potential problems with this method. She points out that women could feel driven enough to get the test that they would spend more than $250 for them when they don’t have insurance for prenatal care.
The new research is reported in this week's issue of Journal of the American Medical Association. MSNBC reports that the test of the mother's DNA with this test correctly detected a male fetus 95 percent of the time
Doctors who came up with the test say it could be an alternative to more invasive procedures like amniocentesis, which removes a sample of the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus, or chorionic biopsies, which test the placenta's tissue. Both these tests reveal serious inherited birth problems like hemophilia, and single-gene disorders like congenital adrenal hyperplasia and ambiguous genitalia, in which a child could be born with a mix of both sex organs.
But Dr. Bianchi says these methods may still be called for. "These methods are gold standards for determining fetal abnormality issues, but some of these procedures are invasive and can carry a small risk of miscarriage," Bianchi told CNN. "The blood test has no major safety issues."
But this new simple way of predicting a baby's sex sounds an alarm for estheticians who are worried the test could make it easier for parents to abort a child because of its sex.
But Susannah Baruch, a lawyer and policy consultant for Generation Ahead, a US-based group that fights for policies that lead to more just and ethical uses of human genetic technologies who says the problem is not big in the US.
"There have been only a few small studies in Asian immigrant populations looking at birth rate ratios which show some skewing towards more boys in second and third born children," Baruch told CNN. "But none of it sheds much light on the way first semester screening would be used."
This new blood test is usually given to women who either have relatives, or they themselves know they carry a genetic defect that could be transferred to their child. Sometimes these defects or conditions can be reversed while the baby is still inside the womb, so doctors say the sooner parents know about their unborn baby's issues, the better. Up to now, ultrasound technology, like sonography has been performed as early as 11 weeks’ gestation to determine fetal sex, but many parents want to know sooner.
One concern of companies that produce these gender-determination kits it that women could abort fetuses of an undesired sex. So, several companies with such tests do not sell them in China or India, where boys are prized over girls, and female fetuses have been aborted. The issue is not considered to be widespread in the US and Canada, doctors say that occasionally when a customer expresses an interest, they are denied the test. A recent study in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis found that in some Asian-American groups, more boys than girls are born in ratios that strongly suggest prenatal sex selection.
More about Blood test, fetal sex, Sex selection
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