Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blood test detects fetal sex much earlier in pregnancy

New technology can tell pregnant women whether they're having a boy or girl as early as seven weeks into a pregnancy — months earlier than usual, according to a study in today'sJournal of the American Medical Association.

While the technology could help families at high risk of having a baby with rare genetic diseases, some experts also worry that couples could misuse the blood tests in order to abort a fetus based on gender.

The technology works by detecting "cell-free fetal DNA," or DNA from the fetus, which floats freely in a pregnant woman's blood, says author Diana Bianchi of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. Her analysis of 57 studies from peer-reviewed medical journals showed that these blood tests, common in Europe but not in theUSA, can reveal a fetus' sex only a week or two after a pregnant woman misses her period. Women usually learn the sex through an ultrasound, at 18 to 20 weeks.

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