"This method would potentially give a more accurate reading of which women should be advised to undergo amniocentesis," says TIME medical correspondent Christine Gorman. "But among women who might abort rather than give birth to a Down's syndrome baby, if a first-trimester test contains a warning sign, most would be unlikely to want to go through the agony of waiting until the second trimester for a definitive answer. This study contains some interesting clinical observations, but unfortunately what it really shows is that there’s still no conclusive non-invasive test for Down's syndrome."
All prospective parents would prefer to avoid putting an unborn child at risk with amniocentesis, the current test for Down's syndrome, but would they wait the month for a verdict that a new, safer test involves? That's the question being debated following the release of a new study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, in which researchers developed a computer program that can collate the results of two non-invasive procedures carried out a month apart to more accurately establish the presence of Down's syndrome. Although neither a first trimester blood test and ultrasound nor a second trimester blood test offers a definitive answer, a team of British researchers found that by correlating the results with their program they were able to identify 85 percent of Down's syndrome cases with only a 1 percent false positive rate. Amniocentesis provides a definitive answer, but the procedure involves withdrawing fluid from the fetal sac using a needle, which triggers miscarriages in 1 percent of such procedures.