A BLOOD test that could predict an unborn babys risk of many disorders has been devised by scientists. Using a tiny sample of the mothers blood, researchers can piece together the childs genetic code and search its DNA for the flaws behind conditions such as Down syndrome and autism. The technique would remove the risk of miscarriage associated with current invasive tests, saving the lives of hundreds of unborn babies each year. But there are fears it could be exploited to predict an unborn childs risk of problems from Alzheimers to cancer and heart attacks, creating worry for parents before their baby has even entered the world. There are also concerns parents could abuse the technology to select the perfect child, with those not fitting the bill in terms of looks, health or even personality being aborted. Currently, pregnant women thought to be at high risk of having a baby with a condition such as Down syndrome have the choice of two procedures, amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling. Both involve putting a needle into the womb and raise the risk of miscarriage. Herald Sun To remove the risk, research teams around the world are trying to find a way of gleaning genetic information from tiny pieces of foetal DNA that have worked their way into the mothers blood. Researchers at Londons Great Ormond St Hospital are developing a blood test for Down syndrome. But the new technique, reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine, would allow multiple conditions to be picked up at once. Using a sample of blood taken from a woman who was 12 weeks pregnant, researchers led by Dr Dennis Lo painstakingly pieced together the genetic code of her unborn child and then scanned for key genetic flaws. They already knew the childs parents were both carriers of beta-thalassemia, a life-threatening blood disorder, raising the possibility the child would have it. By studying the childs genome, or entire cache of DNA, the researchers were able to reassure the parents that their child would merely carry the illness, rather than suffer from it. The technique costs $200,660 a baby, but the price is expected to drop dramatically over time. Dr Lo, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: The power of this technology is that by using one test you can see the entire foetal genome. But Dr Helen Wallace, of GeneWatch UK, said: Clearly there are benefits in terms of specific tests that can be done in a safer way. But the danger is the test will be used to predict the risk of a range of diseases and even personality and many of these predictions will be misleading. Dr David King, of Human Genetics Alert, said: The danger of this new method is that it will encourage parental choosiness about minor imperfections, or even cosmetic features. Herald Sun