Their goal: Taking the fear out of prenatal testing

pre-natal testing
With this NanoVelcro microchip, UCLA researchers have developed a method for non-invasive prenatal testing. Photo credit: Hsian-Rong Tseng

For pregnant women, the prospect of prenatal testing creates both hope and fear. The hope: That they’ll learn the gender of their unborn child and that it will be shown to be developing normally. The risk: That the test itself will create a health risk for them or their baby. New UCLA-led research could ultimately remove the fear.

The study, led by Hsian-Rong Tseng, a professor in the department of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, highlights a potential new way to conduct prenatal testing – one that doesn’t involve invasive sampling or the risk of miscarriage. Instead, the method uses fetal cells collected from the mother’s blood or cervix.

NanoVelcro microships
UCLA researchers prepared their chips with a nano-imprinting process that made them easier and faster to make.

The research, published recently in ACS Nano and supported by the National Institutes of Health, shows promise in the use of cells known as circulating trophoblasts to create a diagnostic test. Circulating trophoblasts are fetal cells shed from the placenta into a woman’s blood early in pregnancy. These cells hold the answers to many of the questions that parents have at that stage of a child’s life. What to do about ear infections comes later.

As described in the journal, the researchers first collected blood from 15 pregnant women, eliminated the red blood cells, then applied the rest of the blood cells to a NanoVelcro microchip they developed themselves. They also attached an antibody to a marker on the cells’ surface.

Here’s a description of the impact from

“The advantage over current non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPTs) that analyze cell-free circulating DNA from the mother's blood ... is that the test would analyze pure fetal DNA without any maternal DNA mixed in and, therefore, likely be suitable for diagnostics, not just screening.”

Tseng, who is also a faculty member at the UCLA Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging and UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, told that the  chip has "diagnostic power."

He and his colleagues prepared their microchips using a nano-imprinting fabrication process that made them easier and faster to make. PhysOrg provides an explanation of that process.

The authors themselves describe it best in the conclusion  of their study: "Imprinted NanoVelcro Microchips for Isolation and Characterization of Circulating Fetal Trophoblasts: Toward Noninvasive Prenatal Diagnostics":

“With appropriate validation in large-scale clinical studies, this cTB-based NIPT holds the potential to evolve into a noninvasive prenatal diagnostics solution.”

Translated from scientific-speak, that means:

We need more studies, but this approach looks extremely promising as a non-risky way to get answers about a fetus’ development.

Mothers-to-be everywhere need that kind of solution.


Learn more about nanoscience and nanotechnology at the California nanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

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