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Can a simple blood test identify the gender of a fetus at 7 weeks?

Posted Aug 10 2011 10:50am
What if you could know the sex of the baby you're having as early as your seventh week of pregnancy?

The technology is available and according to a JAMA study published Aug. 10, the simple blood test is reliable.

But it's not likely that the test will ever become a mainstream way to determine a baby's sex, like ultrasound is today, according to Joseph Biggio, M.D., chair of the UAB's Department of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and director of UAB's Fetal Diagnosis and Care Center .

"This capability goes back 14 years. The study just complied what was reported in other studies and explained if done in the right fashion using the right technology you can find male DNA in the mother's blood as early as seven weeks," he says. "But, I don't see this becoming all that mainstream in the U.S."

Biggio said this is because doing a PCR test on blood requires a level of sophistication in the lab that many community hospitals don't have. However, blood tests like these could eventually play a major role in fetal diagnosis in the future, he added.

"With time, this may well get us to the point where many invasive procedures to diagnose abnormalities in a fetus can be avoided. I think there is a clear medical role that 10 years from now, physicians will use this type of technology to diagnose chromosomal abnormalities."

To that end, Biggio is currently the principal investigator on a study that is looking at similar blood tests for detecting Down syndrome.

He cautions that there is a danger for misuse of this technology too.

"There is a real danger that this technology could be used for gender selection," he says.

And what about those over-the-counter urine tests sold in drug stores that claim they can reveal the sex of the baby you're carrying? Do they have the same markers that are in the blood and are they reliable?

"I agree with the paper's authors. I think the technology is sound for the blood tests -- not for the urine test. Those are no better than flipping a coin," Biggio says.

Read Biggio's other comments about this study in USA Today .

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