At his blog, Neuroskeptic says broad-scale commercial fetal genome testing is "likely to become possible in the next few years." While researchers have already scanned fetal genomes to detect chromosomal abnormalities like Down syndrome, "those diseases are just the low-hanging fruit at the tip of the iceberg," Neuroskeptic says. "To gather the kind of detailed genomic information that could diagnose thousands of disorders is harder: the fetal and maternal genomes are mixed up, and the challenge is to tease them apart."
Researchers are rapidly improving their ability to do so. Last week's Nature paper from Stanford University's Stephen Quake and his colleagues is but the most recent example of such.
Neuroskeptic says that, at present, "the resolution's still not 100 percent, but inevitably it will become cheaper, faster, and more accurate as technology advances." And, he adds, it's likely to become affordable in the next five to 10 years.
"I think there'll be demand for such services. Most parents won't do it, but enough people will that it will be a major issue," Neuroskeptic says. "With demand will come companies to supply these services and, inevitably, advertising," which, he adds, could lead to undue worry among parents-to-be. "A variant won't need to be really associated with a disease, just believed to be, to make people panic."
Neuroskeptic also predicts fetal genome sequencing could become socially and politically divisive, and that it could be especially tough to regulate. "Banning fetal (or all) genomics except under medical supervision might be possible, but people could always go (or send a few drops of blood) abroad to get around that," he says.
Overall, Neuroskeptic says, fetal genome sequencing is coming, and while he's not yet sure where he stands on the issue, "it looks very likely that we'll each have to make a decision in the coming years."