Biomedical engineers, Dr Marnie Winter and Professor Benjamin Thierry from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology (CBNS), are part of a team of researchers who have isolated fetal cells from maternal blood using a tiny microfluidic device. The breakthrough will allow for improved genetic testing which would be potentially less harmful during pregnancy.

From about five weeks into the pregnancy, fetal cells originating from the placenta can be found in a mother’s bloodstream. Using modern microfluidic technology, it is now possible to isolate these extremely rare cells (about one in a million) from the mother’s white blood cells and collect them for genetic analysis.

The researchers say that there is significant scope to further develop the ‘lab-on-a-chip’ concept, and are collaborating with industry partners to translate this technology for routine clinical prenatal diagnostics and make it available in the future to screen low and medium-risk pregnancies.

There is hope that this device could result in a new, non-invasive prenatal diagnostic test able to detect a wide range of genetic abnormalities in early pregnancy from a simple blood sample.

Image: Future Industries Institute researcher Dr Marnie Winter at work in the lab.
Credit: University of South Australia.