HONG KONG, January 19, 2011 ( – Researchers from the Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have developed a new non-invasive pre-natal test for Down’s syndrome that they said is 98 percent accurate in detecting Down syndrome in the womb.

British disability rights campaigners have warned that the test will simply result in more Down syndrome babies being killed by abortion before they can take their first breath. In some parts of the Western world the abortion rate for babies diagnosed with Down syndrome is already as high as 90%.

The research, published this month in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), applies gene sequencing to detect abnormalities in the child using only blood tests from the mother. It is being hailed as an advance on invasive tests such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, which can lead to miscarriages.

“Over the years, several versions of the test have been developed, but this test is one of the most promising in terms of diagnostic performance,” said Dr. Rossa Chiu, first author of the study.

The group No Less Human, a disability rights group in the UK, has said that the entire premise of prenatal testing for Down and other genetic abnormalities is predicated on the underlying assumption that it is “acceptable to kill on the grounds of disability.”

“Pre-natal testing sends out a strong message to adult disabled people that society would very much rather that they did not exist,” the group said in a statement.

The new method was developed in 2008, but this is the first large-scale study of its effectiveness. It examined more than 750 blood samples from pregnant women in Hong Kong, Britain and the Netherlands. Eighty-six of the women were carrying a child with Down syndrome.

The researchers discovered that during pregnancy a child releases its DNA into the mother’s blood plasma, which can be examined to read the entire fetal genome.

No Less Human said the new test “only seeks to ensure that as few ‘normal’ babies are lost in the attempt to detect and eliminate all Down’s syndrome babies.”

“However, the vast majority of pre-natal tests aim to detect disabled babies with the aim of aborting them and this so-called ‘accurate new DNA test’ is specifically aimed at Down’s syndrome babies,” they said.


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