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Blood Test Detects Down Syndrome in Fetus

A new test that uses a sample of a pregnant woman's blood to detect Down syndrome in her fetus will be offered in 20 U.S. cities starting Monday, according to The New York Times.

The test from the San Diego-based biotechnology company Sequenom analyzes fetal DNA in the mother's blood and detected 98.6 percent of Down syndrome cases, according to a study published online in the journal Genetics in Medicine.

The test can be used as early as 10 weeks into a pregnancy.

"Its better than anything by far that we've ever seen in testing for Down syndrome non-invasively," said study senior author Jacob A. Canick, a professor of pathology at Brown University, The Times reported.

This and other new blood tests coming to market offer alternatives to riskier invasive tests such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling that carry a slight risk of miscarriage.

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FDA Panel Opposes New Use for Parkinson's Drug

The Parkinson's disease drug Azilect does not slow progression of the disease and should not be approved for such use, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration expert panel recommended in a unanimous vote Monday.

The drug is approved to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease but Teva Pharmaceuticals wanted the FDA to expand that approval so that Azilect could be
prescribed to slow the underlying disease, the Associated Press reported.

But the FDA panel of outside experts said the company's clinical trial results were not convincing and voted 17-0 against recommending approval for that use.

"I believe the drug shows signs of effectiveness for symptomatic use, for which it is already approved. But the higher bar is whether it does anything for disease modification, and it did not meet that standard," said Dr. Justin Zivin of the University of California, San Diego, the APreported.

Currently there is no approved treatment to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease.

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Protein Could Act as 'Fertility Switch'

A "fertility switch" protein that plays a role in infertility and miscarriage has been identified by U.K. researchers.

They analyzed womb lining samples taken from more than 100 women and found high levels of the SGK1 enzyme in those with unexplained fertility and low
levels in those who'd suffered miscarriages, BBC News reported.

In mouse studies, the researchers found that levels of SGK1 in the womb lining decrease during times when female mice can become pregnant. When extra
copies of the SGK1 gene were implanted in the womb lining, the mice were unable to get pregnant. When the researchers blocked the SGK1 gene, the mice
were able to get pregnant but were more likely to have a miscarriage.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, could lead to new ways to help infertile women.

"I can envisage that in the future, we might treat the womb lining by flushing it with drugs that block SGK1 before women undergo IVF," said study leader Professor Jan Brosens, of Imperial College London's Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, BBC News reported.