New type of prenatal diagnosis available


Six medical institutions, including Showa University and the National Center for Child Health and Development, will start offering prenatal diagnosis to women of all ages as early as this month.

The new technique, which relies on blood samples and ultrasound test data, will be available in mid-October at the earliest after approval by the institutions’ ethics committees. It is less accurate but cheaper than a prenatal diagnosis method for older women that they introduced in April.

The new method, which has no age limit, costs about ¥25,000, compared with ¥210,000 for the one for older women that checks the unborn child’s DNA in a blood sample taken from the mother to see if any abnormalities exist in the chromosomes, such as Down syndrome.

Unlike conventional blood tests, the new method can be used in early stages of pregnancy and, if combined with a precise ultrasound examination, the accuracy of the diagnosis is believed to be fairly high.

The new technique has already been introduced at some institutions. But the high level of technical skill required for ultrasound tests has prevented it from becoming more widespread.

The method has raised concerns over the possibility it will lead to easier decisions to have an abortion.

It measures the density of a certain kind of protein in the blood to discover any abnormality in the unborn child’s chromosomes. The measurements are combined with ultrasound images to determine a diagnosis.