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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Early warning over Down's risk
Pregnant woman
Women will be able to have their results when they leave the clinic
Pregnant women can now be offered a 'one-stop' testing service on the NHS to identify whether they are at risk of having a baby with Down's syndrome.

At the moment the test is only offered in one London hospital, but doctors say other hospitals are already expressing an interest.

Oscar - the one-stop, counselling, assessment and risk clinic - enables pregnant women to be checked two months earlier than normal, at 11 weeks.

Women then identified as being at high risk can have follow up tests, which will allow them to decide much earlier whether or not to opt for abortion.

We can identify problems much sooner than by using the conventional approach

Dr Kevin Spencer

Abnormalities

The test, which is currently offered at the Harold Wood Hospital, in Romford, East London, can also pick up other chromosome abnormalities and whether the un-born baby is suffering from cystic fibrosis.

It was built on scientific and technological breakthroughs made over the last decade including analysis of the levels of a compound called free beta HCG in the placenta and checks for pregnancy associated plasma protein A.

Dr Kevin Taylor
Dr Kevin Taylor said the system offers women speedier results

Dr Kevin Spencer, the consultant biochemist at Harold Wood, who developed Oscar along with specialists from King's College Hospital, London, said the test was relieving anxieties for many pregnant women.

Women coming to the clinic have a blood test to assess the risk of their having a child with a genetic disorder and while they are waiting for the results of these bio-chemical markers they are offered a nuchal fold ultra-sound scan which looks at the fluid-filled area behind the foetus's neck.

"We are offering screening to women of all ages at 11 weeks of gestation using the nuchal fold test and bio-chemical marker tests.

"By doing this we can identify problems much sooner than by using the conventional approach.

"Following a one hour visit to the hospital the patient can go away with the reassurance that their pregnancy is fine, but a small number of women will have to consider further diagnostic tests.

"Only 3% of the women we have coming here chose not to have the test."

Speedier diagnosis

He said that conventional testing meant some women have to wait until as late as 21 weeks into their pregnancy to decide to terminate their babies.

His programme allows women to make a decision on whether to terminate at as little as three months, meaning less emotional and physical risks for the women.

Ultrasound scan
Women will be able to know the risk of Down's much earlier

Dr Spencer said:"In our screening programme we test and give the patients the test results within an hour.

"For those few women where there is a problem they can be dealt with speedily.

"Those needing invasive tests can be given them the following day and two days later they will have their results."

Over the last three years 13,000 women attending antenatal clinics at the hospital have been given the test.

Fifty were identified as having a substantial risk of having a baby with a genetic disorder and all chose to have termination following counselling.

The new system is said to be able to spot 90% of foetuses with Down's compared to 70% previously.

Patient Barbara Fryer who has had the Oscar test said the early results allowed women like her to make informed decisions about their pregnancies.

"If you are going to have a Down's, or have a high risk of having a Down's, baby you can prepare yourselves for what you have got to do in order to look after the baby."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Navdip Dhariwal
"With this new test... the chances of prompting a miscarriage is very low"
See also:

21 Nov 00 | Health
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30 May 00 | Health
21 Sep 00 | Health
13 Mar 00 | Health
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