Council to host expert meeting on non-invasive prenatal testing

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics will be hosting a roundtable meeting later this month to discuss non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT). The meeting will bring together academic researchers, experts involved in screening, policy makers and groups affected by screening programmes to discuss the clinical, ethical, social, legal and policy issues raised. The meeting will be chaired by Tom Shakespeare, Senior Lecturer in Medical Sociology at the University of East Anglia and a member of the Nuffield Council.

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By testing fetal DNA present in a mother’s blood, NIPT eliminates the risk of miscarriage associated with invasive prenatal tests such as amniocentisis. NIPT is now considered to be an accurate test for the risk of Down’s Syndrome, Edwards Syndrome and Patau Syndrome in pregnancies with a high risk of developing these conditions, although guidelines recommend that confirmatory invasive testing should be performed. The UK National Screening Committee is currently considering whether to introduce NIPT as part of the NHS Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme. Several private clinics already offer testing for these conditions, as well as gender, from 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Research suggests that NIPT can also provide early and safe access to information about some single gene disorders, and it has the potential to test for other genetically related conditions and factors in future. Whole genome sequencing of the fetus based on NIPT is technically possible. NIPT can detect previously unknown DNA anomalies in pregnant women, leading to diagnoses of cancer.

NIPT puts some of the challenges associated with existing prenatal testing in a new context and intensifies others. At the roundtable meeting, participants will discuss issues such as the potential effect of NIPT on the uptake of prenatal screening and on what is screened for, in both public and private screening programmes, the potential implications of NIPT for people with detectable conditions, and how to achieve equity of access, informed consent and genuine choice.

To inform our discussions, the Council commissioned a background paper on the key clinical, ethical, social, legal and policy issues raised by NIPT. Download the background paper on NIPT.

This meeting is for invited participants only. A summary of the discussions will be published, and the Council will decide whether to conduct any further work or activities on this topic at its 2016 Forward Look meeting in February.

If you would like to know more about this work or would like to express your interest in the topic, please contact Catherine Joynson, Programme Manager: cjoynson@nuffieldbioethics.org

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