medical sciences

NIPT test developed by Estonian researchers is covered by Estonian Health Insurance Fund

The NIPT is a non-invasive screening method that only requires drawing blood from the mother
The NIPT is a non-invasive screening method that only requires drawing blood from the mother. Photo credit: Renee Altrov.

In the middle of March, hospitals in Estonia canceled first trimester screening for pregnant women in connection with the ongoing emergency situation. In its stead, however, the Health Insurance Fund began funding non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) as of March 17, which will still allow for the early detection of more common chromosomal disorders.

According to the Health Insurance Fund, they began funding the NIPT at the request of the Estonian Gynecologists’ Society (ENS). All women whose combined first trimester screening, also known as the OSCAR test (One-stop Clinic for Assessment of Risk for Fetal Anomalies), was canceled due to the emergency situation will be eligible for free NIPT testing.

The vast majority of Estonia’s NIPT tests are analyzed in the Competence Centre on Health Technologies (CCHT). The researchers in CCHT in collaboration with University of Tartu have developed and successfully entered the Estonian market in 2018 with their NIPTIFY test. The head of the laboratory, Kaarel Krjutškov PhD, highlighted that the situation has changed rapidly and the laboratory now operates at full speed. “Although the coming period will be extremely busy for us, we will manage well and provide the best quality screening service for all pregnant women during the pandemic situation”.

According to the ENS, the NIPT is an evidence-based method that allows for the early discovery of the most common chromosomal abnormalities. The NIPT is a non-invasive screening method that only requires drawing blood from the mother, usually around weeks 10-13 of pregnancy. As it can be used to diagnose various chromosomal abnormalities, it provides an effective replacement for the standard first trimester screening.

Until the updated decision, only pregnant women belonging to risk groups could get the testing done for free. The ENS, however, sought to have testing expanded to include all pregnant women in order to ensure continued quality of care.

“NIPT testing allows for the discovery of the majority of yet-undiscovered cases of chromosomal abnormalities,” said Tanel Kaju, a chief specialist at the Health Insurance Fund. “The sample taken of the mother’s blood helps specify the risk for various abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Edwards syndrome and Patau syndrome.”

This is a slightly edited version of the article that was originally published on ERR News.

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