CONTACT: TOM MOORE
8788 John Pappajohn Pavilion
Iowa City IA 52242
Release: Nov. 17, 1999
UI physicians using new screening technique for birth
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Specialists in the University of
Iowa department of obstetrics and gynecology are using a new technique that
can less invasively detect possible birth defects as early in pregnancy as
any other method.
The technique is called nuchal translucency. The process
involves the use of an ultrasound examination to measure the thickness of
the skin on the back of the neck of the fetus. Nuchal translucency can detect
a range of possible birth defects, including Down syndrome and heart abnormalities,
as early as 11 to 14 weeks into a pregnancy.
"The technique is very precise and sensitive," said
Jerome Yankowitz, M.D., UI associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology
and a perinatology specialist at the UI Hospitals and Clinics. "At that stage
of pregnancy, the heart is about the size of a grain of rice."
Yankowitz traveled to London to learn the technique
from the physician who perfected it, Kypros Nicolaides, M.D. Nicolaides studied
nuchal translucency examinations in more than 150,000 pregnancies. His research
shows that nuchal translucency can detect up to 80 percent of cases of Down
syndrome and up to 60 percent of congenital heart defects.
Nuchal translucency screenings can be beneficial for
all pregnant women, not just those who have a higher risk for delivering a
child with birth defects, Yankowitz said. "The advantage of the technique
is that we can safely screen the woman very early in her pregnancy, toward
the tail end of the first trimester," Yankowitz said. "Then, we can tell the
couple what their risk is for having a child with a birth defect and help
them decide if they should go on to have additional testing such as an amniocentesis
or chorionic villus sampling. Those techniques are quite safe, but they are
more invasive and they do pose more of a risk for a miscarriage."
If an abnormality is detected, couples may decide
to either terminate or continue the pregnancy.
"This is not just about helping to decide to terminate
the pregnancy," Yankowitz said. "Most couples are very glad just to know what
to expect. If we know in advance that defects are likely, we
can prepare to have the child delivered here to ensure
that the baby receives the specialized care he or she will require, and we
can prepare the family to help meet the child's special needs, as well."
The National Institutes of Health is planning an $11.5
million research study of nuchal
translucency in the United States. Other medical centers
in the U.S. are also now offering the technique.
"This technique has tremendous potential," Yankowitz
said. "We believe that it will quickly become very accepted practice and that
women will soon begin to demand it."
For additional information about nuchal translucency,
contact Yankowitz at (319) 356-2574.
University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership
between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the
patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.