A new test that screens unborn babies for the presence of Down's syndrome will be offered to prenatal patients at King's College Hospital and Medway Maritime hospital in Chatham, Kent.
Experts are of the opinion that the non-invasive test, if offered across the NHS could spare the need for invasive testing for tens of thousands of women.
The test was assessed in a study of 1,005 pregnant women, who had blood samples drawn at 10 weeks, which were sent to the US for testing fetal DNA in the mother's blood. The results were known in 2 weeks' time, which allowed women identified as high-risk to be offered the standard 12-week test.
"With the current method you get any number: one in two [chance of the baby having Down's], one in ten, fifty, or five hundred. With the new test you get a result which is either more than 99 per cent chance, or a less than one in ten thousand chance. It is a very clear distinction between the two," study leader Prof Kypros Nicolaides was quoted as saying on the Telegraph newspaper.
The test costs £400, which is expensive, but researchers hope the pilot test trial will interest pharmaceutical companies. In the current trial, the test will be offered free to all women who agree to be part of the ongoing study.