NHS England is set to roll out a new test this week that will help doctors to spot a rare form of eye cancer(Retinoblastoma) in babies in the womb.
The NHS test developed at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, identifies the risk of developing retinoblastoma in babies that can be monitored and treated sooner – increasing the chance of saving their eyesight and potentially their lives.
The new non-invasive test can detect changes in the genes in DNA and is likely to identify around 50 infants with retinoblastoma each year, in the latest example of the NHS harnessing the power of genomics to diagnose and treat patients faster and more effectively.
Non-Invasive Prenatal Diagnosis (NIPD) also means parents can be informed early in pregnancy if their child is at risk.
“The blood sample test is taken from the mother before birth and tested and analyzed for mutations, which can determine with almost 100 per cent accuracy if the baby will develop retinoblastoma,” the NHS said.
Treatment can then start on the affected eye as soon as the baby is born, with doctors closely monitoring the other eye for any signs. The test can also predict if the disease might develop in their siblings and will be offered to families where there is a confirmed case of retinoblastoma in the family.
On top of the cutting-edge new test, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospitals is also developing a non-invasive post-natal cancer test for retinoblastoma patients using eye fluid – which can also identify if a patient is at risk from other cancers later in life. It’s hoped that in the future this could be eventually done by a simple blood test.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The introduction of this pioneering new test is fantastic news for babies and their parents, and has the potential to save hundreds of lives over the coming years.
“Cancer is such a terrible illness and a baby being born with it can have a huge impact on parents and families during what should be an incredibly happy time, but backed by world-class innovation and services like the NHS Genomic Medicine Service, through the Long Term Plan the NHS is developing and delivering more cutting edge treatments like this one to help save lives and keep families together.”