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Mother Knows All

Next generation of prenatal tests finds clues to baby's health in mother's blood

By
12:01pm, November 6, 2007

For 9 months, doctors can at best make educated guesses about a growing fetus' future as a healthy human. Those first fuzzy black-and-white ultrasound images can provide a mother with the peace of mind that she has a boy or girl with a beating heart, but many developmental maladies leave no visible fingerprint. Doctors can diagnose some genetic disorders by means of amniocentesis, in which they examine whole fetal cells extracted from the amniotic fluid that surrounds a baby in the womb. But the risk of complications from this invasive procedure, which requires inserting a long needle into a woman's abdomen, can exceed the risk that something was wrong to begin with.

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