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a golden dna strand

After 10 years of effort, medical researchers at Columbia University have developed a very fast and cheap way to detect the extra or missing chromosomes that most often cause miscarriages or severe birth defects.

The method, described Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, takes less than two hours using a palm-size device and costs $200 per use. With current testing procedures, women can end up paying $1,000 to $2,000, often out of pocket.

The technique, developed by Dr. Zev Williams, director of the Columbia University Fertility Center, and his colleagues, uses cells and tissues obtained from existing prenatal screening procedures of embryos and fetuses, or tissue obtained after miscarriages. Its key advantage is that the cells or tissue do not have to be sent to a testing lab — the analysis can be done in the same office that obtained the material, and results are ready in hours rather than days or weeks.

Dr. Williams’s results still need to be confirmed by outside studies. But if the method were widely used, it could help more women who... see more