babies - Tomer Appelbaum - July 12 2010
Pediatric ward at a hospital in Israel. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Starting Tuesday, women with high-risk pregnancies will be allowed to undergo a free advanced genetic test designed for the prenatal diagnosis of genetic abnormalities that other tests are unable to find.

Until now, the test was available only through private medical centers, at a cost of NIS 3,500 to NIS 5,000.

The Health Ministry has decided to subsidize the chromosomal microarray analysis, at a cost to the state of an estimated NIS 2 million to NIS 3 million a year. The noninvasive test uses DNA chips to test unborn babies for more than 270 genetic syndromes, subject to the recommendation of a geneticist.

"The advanced test checks the genes using a far more precise method" than existing genetic tests like amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, said Joel Zlotogora, who heads the Health Ministry's community genetics department.

Zlotogora said the new test would be done if an ultrasound or other tests indicate a possible abnormality, and is meant to complement amniocentesis, which is invasive.

"If we see on the ultrasound that the fetus has an abnormality, we want to see for sure whether it's something genetic," he said. "The whole world is deliberating whether to allow most women to use this test, but right now no country is replacing the basic tests with this one."

Zlotogora said the test was not being offered to all women because it can show abnormalities that could needlessly worry pregnant women and their partners, and lead to increased abortions.

"We sometimes see things that have no significance for the fetus, insignificant abnormalities," said Zlotogora. "Some parents are likely to get scared off by the information and end the pregnancy."

He said a large portion of fetal abnormalities can be fixed after birth.