A new study sets the stage for wider use of gene testing in early pregnancy. Scanning the genes of a fetus reveals far more about potential health risks than does current prenatal testing, say researchers who compared them in pregnancies nationwide.

A surprisingly high number, 6 percent, of certain fetuses declared normal by conventional testing were found by gene scans to have abnormalities. The gene flaws can cause anything from minor defects such as a club foot to serious ones such as mental retardation, heart problems and fatal diseases.

"We're better able to give lots and lots of women more information about what's causing the problem and what the prognosis is and what special care their child might need," said Dr. Ronald Wapner of Columbia University Medical Center. He led the federally funded study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

A second study found that gene testing could reveal the cause of most stillbirths, many of which remain a mystery now.

"We can never guarantee the perfect baby but if they want everything done, this is a test that can tell a lot more," said Dr. Susan Klugman of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, which enrolled 300 women in the study. -- AP

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