The world’s largest test to detect pregnancy has been described as the “most accurate, reliable, and accessible” method of detecting pregnancy in a test that has been used for more than 200 years.
It is also one of the most expensive, costing £4,000 per scan, compared with around £10,000 for the UK’s fertility test, which was approved in 2012.
A new study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics found that a DNA scan can detect pregnancy in nearly 99% of women, compared to about 20% for the current UK fertility test.
However, the results were less clear when the tests were compared to the results of women who have undergone an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedure, or to the women who are given injections of the same hormone.
A UK researcher said that the results “may be a significant breakthrough in our understanding of how and why pregnant women can detect and respond to their pregnancies”.
He said that while the study’s authors “agree with the idea that a woman can detect early pregnancy from an in vivo test, we cannot say with certainty that she can detect it in a urine test.”
However, Dr David Littrell, a consultant obstetrician at the Royal London Hospital and an author of the study, said: “These results are an important first step in our work to better understand the molecular mechanism that allows pregnant women to detect early signs of pregnancy.”
Dr Littrel, who is also a clinical researcher at the UK Biomedical Research Centre in Norwich, added that the UK test “may have great potential to help women and their partners identify pregnancies and identify when they need IVF”.
He added that “the new test is being used in clinical settings where the majority of IVF cycles have been conducted without any detection”.
Dr Lettrell told the BBC that the test could be used for women “who are not at risk for preterm birth or who have had an abnormal pregnancy”, as well as those who “are experiencing difficulty in maintaining a healthy pregnancy”.
Dr David Leopold, who was not involved in the study but has a personal interest in the subject, told the news website BBC News: “The UK is currently one of only two countries in the world that use in vitro tests for early detection of pregnancy.
This is hugely important because of the fact that it has such great potential for women.”
He added: “In vitro tests are really good at detecting pregnancy because they have the ability to recognise early signs and pregnancy in very early stages of pregnancy, so it allows us to know at a glance whether the patient is in danger of preterm delivery or is in need of IVFs.”
Dr Leopolds study included a sample of women undergoing IVF and an in-vitro fertilisation procedure in the United States.
The women were then followed for 14 days after the procedure.
The in-voctome-produced DNA was analysed and the results compared with a urine sample collected at the same time.
Dr Leomold told the UK broadcaster ITV that the researchers were able to detect a pregnancy at a level comparable to the level of detection in the urine test.
He added the new study “really goes some way towards demonstrating the importance of using in vitro methods to detect preterm pregnancies”.
The new study comes a year after the US National Institutes of Health approved the first in vitro embryo testing, which can detect a baby’s pregnancy from within the first day of its development.
The results of this test have been criticised by some scientists, including Dr Luttrell, who warned that in vitro testing could cause a “false sense of security” that is “inherently unethical”.