Lab offers new prenatal screening for defects


New technology is helping the UI Hygienic Laboratory officials better detect defects in pregnant women.

The organization is the first state public-health laboratory in the country to use the Iowa Maternal Integrated Screen — a new test that gives women the ability to be tested in the first two trimesters for any potential health risks, like pregnancies at high risk for Down syndrome and other life-threatening defects.

Unlike other pregnancy screens, doctors can merge information and receive more accurate results about unborn babies after the tests are analyzed by the university lab. The test can help determine other difficulties for babies, such as a low birth weight or placenta problems.

“The whole point of screening is to try to look at any risks that would be higher than we’d anticipate,” said Stanley Grant, an advanced practice nurse supervisor at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Another benefit of the new method is the false-positive rate is reduced from 5 percent to about 2 percent, said Stan Berberich, the Hygienic Laboratory manager.

Physicians in Iowa could only use two other types of pregnancy screens prior to the new maternal integrated screen: the Iowa Maternal Quad Screen and the Iowa Maternal First Trimester Screen.
But because they are two different types of tests taken in different trimesters, it is difficult to compare the results.

“When they use the integrated screen they can have a better idea of what’s really going on,” said Kimberly Piper Noble, the state genetic coordinator.

Piper Noble’s office, the Center for Congenital and Inherited Disorders, helped the university lab acquire the new screen, which came out in December 2008.

“This type of prenatal screening brings the program into the 21st century and enables us to use the latest technology to improve the lives of babies in Iowa,” Piper Noble said.

Although this test is new in the nation, pregnancy screenings have always been a source of ethical debate. At the Hygienic Laboratory, doctors have used the Iowa Maternal Quad Screen and Iowa Maternal First Trimester Screen for more than 20 years.

Some people are afraid parents who find out their child will have a defect or disease will not fully understand it or misuse it, said Diana Cates, a UI religious-studies associate professor who teaches a sexual-ethics course.

“Some are concerned that people will abort the fetus before fully informing themselves about the possibilities regarding their child,” she said.

But Grant said the screening process is intended to help women — the UIHC sees pregnant women from all over eastern Iowa.

“People think it’s all about abortion that if they find their baby has a defect, they’ll have one,” Grant said. “If you don’t know it’s coming and everyone is surprised, there can be sub-optimal care.”

Grant said the tests make a big difference because when women who are notified of any birth defects, they can make sure the baby can be born in a specialized care center.

Although it is still unknown if more women will use the new screening, Berberich said he thinks it will become popular.

“We believe that as more women and health care providers learn of this better performing screen, more will choose it,” Berberich said.

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