Researchers at Michigan State University are hoping that a newly-developed blood test to detect fetal abnormalities will eventually become a routine procedure for every pregnant woman.

The test, Early Prenatal Karyotype (EPK) is said to be safer than both Chorionic Villi Sampling (CVS) and amniocentesis, since it is conducted on a routine blood sample  Both CVS and amniocentesis involve surgery and a risk of spontaneous abortion.  Its other “advantage” is that it can be done earlier in pregnancy, at 7 to 12 weeks, than either CVS (8 to 12 weeks) or amniocentesis (16 to 18 weeks).

EPK isolates and examines fetal cells present in the blood of the mother’s circulatory system.  The small amount of blood needed is taken from an arm vein during a routine early pregnancy check–up.  Michigan State microbiologists, Harold Sadoff and Harold Miller, developed the test after reading about an autopsy performed on a woman who died during pregnancy.  The examination found fetal tissue in the woman’s lungs.


The test isolates chromosomal abnormalities (such as Downs Syndrome and Spina bifida) and is said to be highly accurate in determining the sex of the child.  The project summary refers to Downs Syndrome as “severe mental and physical retardation.”  After such a sweeping and inaccurate indictment of Downs Syndrome, it is hardly reassuring to read Sadoff’s denial that EPK won’t increase genetic or sex-based abortions.  “I’m the ultimate optimist.  I believe in the perfectibility of man.  If there’s anything I love it’s children” he said to the Lansing State Journal. He went on to describe the advances being made in fetal surgery and the development of technology to “correct genes.”

Lots of money

Researchers Sadoff and Miller have patented the EPK test.  Clearly, it is expected to make a lot of money.  They estimate Food and Drug Administration approval of the procedure by 1987.  The test will cost $300 in 1987, dropping to $50 by 1995.  They project 4,552,000 EPK tests in 1995, a sum of $227,600,000 (the amount of profit is not given in the project summary).

The EPK procedure has been tested on more than 500 women in Michigan in the past year.  The project summary does not detail how many tests showed genetic problems in those 500 babies, nor how many mothers aborted after a problem was diagnosed.  Nor does it show how many diagnoses subsequently proved correct.