Know Your Baby's Sex By Five Weeks

This just in: Dutch researchers have created a noninvasive blood test that has a near 100% accuracy in determining the gender of a fetus at only five weeks gestation. The simple blood test can also determine the presence of genetic abnormalities a fetus.

Up until now, a mother had to wait until she was at least 11 weeks pregnant to find out whether the baby she carried had certain genetic aberrations such as those responsible for muscular dystrophy. In some cases, such testing could not be done until the pregnancy was 18 weeks old. Now, the mother's plasma can be tested by way of a quick and easy blood test, only five weeks after conception occurs—a very short time indeed.

Holy Grail

Professor Michael Chapman of Australia's University of New South Wales has termed the discovery, the "holy grail" of research. "Scientists have been chasing this for about 25 years," said Chapman. "The biggest advantage of this in a wanted pregnancy is there is no risk of miscarriage during testing." Chapman is head of the department of women's and children's health at NSW.

The risk of miscarriage from amniocentesis is all too real. In order to perform amniocentesis, a needle must be inserted into the mother's abdomen to extract amniotic fluid. This fluid is then analyzed to determine the presence of genetic abnormalities. A side benefit is that amniocentesis can also predict the baby's gender. Out of every 300 amniocentesis tests performed, one results in a miscarriage. Once the sac surrounding the baby is breached and fluid is withdrawn, cramping and contractions can occur that may result in miscarriage.

The team responsible for creating the new diagnostic test hails from the University Medical Center in The Netherlands. The research team tried out the blood test on 200 women. Only in ten cases, did the test fail to reveal a baby's gender.

Fetal DNA

The new procedure involves taking a blood plasma sample from the mom-to-be and then extracting the fetal DNA which circulates in the blood of a pregnant woman. The DNA is examined for gene sequences that identify gender and determine the presence of specific genetic disorders.

While the test can be performed at 5 weeks gestation, it's likely that in practice, the test will only be performed at 7 weeks. Australian obstetricians have predicted that this breakthrough may not be very useful, since early testing might encourage gender selection, which would lead to all sorts of moral and ethical dilemmas.

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