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What You Need to Know About the Hidden Benefits (and Costs) of New Prenatal Tests

Significant scientific leaps offer more information—and decisions—to expecting mothers.

At first blush, the news that scientists can diagnose thousands of genetic disorders in an unborn human baby looks incredible.

Using a blood sample from the mother and saliva from the father, scientists at the University of Washington mapped out the entire genome of a child while he was in the womb. The discovery, which was published June 6 in Science Translational Medicine, makes it possible to spot disorders from sickle cell disease to cystic fibrosis to Down syndrome in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Best of all, at least for those of us who shiver at the thought of an amniocentesis, is that it's noninvasive.

About 10 percent of the free-floating DNA in a mother's blood belongs to her baby, and by comparing her blood with her own and the father's DNA, scientists can pinpoint which DNA belongs to the baby. From there, they can sequence the child's entire DNA code.

Or at least, they can get pretty close. Their accuracy rate was about 98 percent in the infant boy they tested.

And I find ...

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