On Wednesday 14 June, our fetal medicine and clinical genetics teams co-hosted an educational seminar at premises of the Royal Society of Medicine with Premaitha, makers of the SAFE (St George’s Antenatal Fetal Evaluation) blood test.   The test was first offered from June 2015 at the trust.

St George’s was the first NHS hospital in the UK to offer the test free of charge to all pregnant women on our patch who have been assessed as having a ‘high chance’ of developing a fetus with a chromosomal abnormality such as Down’s Syndrome, Edwards or Patau Syndrome.

The test is as accurate as an amniocentisis, which has been the standard test on offer until now and is risk-free in that there is no possibility of miscarriage, a small but important risk associated with amniocentisis.

Mr John Short, lead clinical scientist for the SAFE test laboratory at the trust kicked off the seminar by describing the process of collection, processing and analysis of blood samples in the dedicated laboratory at St George’s. The successful collaboration with Premaitha had resulted in a state-of-the-art laboratory which could produce test results within three days with a miniscule failure rate and which could be fully audited from start to finish. The whole process was paperless and results communicated immediately through a secure web portal – a major improvement for the NHS.

This was followed by a presentation by Professor Basky Thilanganathan who outlined why he considers the SAFE test to be the best and safest option currently available for pregnant women given a ‘high chance’ result for a fetal trisomy.

The seminar moved on to focus on the different statistical models to assess ‘high risk’ which are used currently by other clinicians.  One of these was Professor Kypros Nikolaides, from King’s College Hospital, who described the drawbacks of certain approaches and errors in the process of evaluating risk and the impact this could have in the interpretation of results. Professor Nicolaides commended St George’s and Premaitha for their responsible approach to cell free DNA testing in pregnancy.

The final presentation was from Professor Robert Old from Warwick University went on to discuss whether the current trend by private companies into developing tests for rare chromosomal abnormalities other than fetal trisomies is useful to clinicians and their patients and questioned whether such testing was justifiable at a scientific level.   The evening was attended by around 120 clinicians, trust staff and representatives from Premaitha