A new, easy test of a pregnant woman’s blood to identify the genetic Down
Syndrome in fetuses at 11 or 12 weeks with 100 percent accuracy could
significantly reduce the number of mentally disabled children born in Israel,
according to Dr. Ariel Tenenbaum, head of the Down Syndrome Center at
Hadassah University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount
Tenenbaum, who is proud of the “one-shop” medical facility that
offers all services for such children including medical, psychological, genetic,
dietary, communications, x-rays and scanning, says that many Israeli parents –
both Jews and Arabs, observant and secular – will continue to decline to abort
such a fetus because for religious or other reasons.
But there will be
some who regard the 11th week after conception as early enough according to
Halacha to perform such abortion, he said Thursday.
The availability of
such a test was announced by Cyprus-based researchers three weeks
Tenenbaum was the main host at the fifth World Down Syndrome
conference held in Hadassah Mount Scopus. It was a joint effort not only of the
Hadassah center but also of Shalva, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Welfare and
Social Services Ministry, the Shalem Foundation, the Hebrew University and
Yated, all of whom devote efforts to improving the life, treatment and
integration of Down syndrome children and adults.
The Hadassah physician
noted that about 150 Down syndrome babies are born in Israel annually, many of
them to haredi and national- religious Jews and to Muslims.
Jews and Muslim Arabs tend to have large families, with many of their women
giving birth at relatively later ages, Down syndrome births in these communities
have offset the decline in such births among secular families, and the annual
number has remained stable for some time.
The new blood test, revealed in
a report in Nature Medicine by lead author Dr. Philippos Patsalis of the Cyprus
Institute of Neurology and Genetics, showed 100 percent sensitivity and 100%
specificity in all Down syndrome pregnancies, as well as all those with normal
The blood test was examined in 14 women with
proven Down syndrome fetuses and 26 women with normal fetuses. Three
chromosomes, instead of the normal two, is a sign of trisomy- 21 that causes the
genetic-based mental disability.
The test is not available yet; it has to
be tested in more women, approved by the authorities and produced on a
commercial basis; but it will likely become a highly popular, if not standard,
As of now, women who want to know if they have a Down fetus must
undergoing invasive tests (amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, which can
raise the risk of miscarriage and other complications) or get less accurate
results by having conventional blood test screenings, which most Israeli women
One foreign company said it could launch the new test in about
Despite the challenge of raising a Down syndrome child,
numerous Israeli parents do so with much love and devotion and regard them as
perfect, wonderful souls with much potential.
There is a wide spectrum of
disability among such children, with one of the speakers at the conference
saying there is one abroad with a master’s degree in early childhood
Some Down children grow up to have close and even sexual
relationships, and some have married, although they avoid getting
A full Health Page feature on the Hadassah conference on Down
syndrome will appear on Sunday, April 10.