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Safer test, shorter wait as new Down’s screening comes to St George’s

Safer test, shorter wait as new Down’s screening comes to St George’s


St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust announced today that it will begin offering an in-house, non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) for pregnant women in the UK. The test will help expectant mothers to understand the risk of their unborn baby having Down’s syndrome and other serious genetic diseases.

The trust revealed in March this year that it was joining forces with British firm, Premaitha Health to bring this new screening to St George’s.

Before this, pregnant women in the UK could only access NIPT privately, with blood samples being sent either to the US or China. Not only was this costly, but it also carried a waiting time of up to two weeks for results which are pivotal in helping parents make decisions about their pregnancies.

St George’s screening test will be called ‘the SAFE test’ and St George’s will be the only trust to offer NIPT to expectant mothers through the NHS. Based on Premaitha Health’s IONA® test, the SAFE test analyses a small sample of the mother’s blood to correctly identify over 99% of Down syndrome and other serious genetic disorders.

The SAFE test carries a range of benefits:

  • Safe: The greatly reduced false positive rate of the SAFE test means that fewer pregnant women will undergo unnecessary invasive procedures such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which are stressful and carry a risk of miscarriage.
  • Accurate: The SAFE test correctly identifies over 99% of Down syndrome and other serious genetic disorders. 
  • Fast: Women who undergo the SAFE test will receive their results in five days, compared with the 10 to 14-day turnaround time when their samples are sent to the US or China.
  • Effective: The calculation of risk in the SAFE test will include both measurements of fetal material and take into account the pregnant woman’s specific pre-test risk for genetic problems. By combining these two parameters the SAFE test maintains a high detection rate for a greatly reduced false positive rate.

St George’s is committed to making the SAFE test available to their patients as soon as possible. They have partnered with Premaitha to launch a focused NHS service from June and will open a fully commissioned screening laboratory in September 2015.

The focused service will be available to all pregnant women referred to St George’s to receive further care after receiving a NHS “high risk” combined test result.

The women will have the choice to undertake either a CVS or the SAFE test – as clinically appropriate.

Professor Basky Thilaganathan, Consultant Obstetrician at St George’s commented, “This is great news for the trust and for pregnant women in the UK.

“NIPT has the potential to make a huge difference to the care and reassurance that clinicians can offer to pregnant women. Too many have been through the anxiety and discomfort of invasive procedures after receiving false positive results from the combined test – the SAFE test gives us the accuracy and reliability to reduce this number significantly.

“We are very happy to be able to partner with a UK innovator like Premaitha to create an UK Centre of Excellence using the IONA® test – currently the only CE-marked NIPT test.”

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