Noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT), sometimes called noninvasive prenatal screening (NIPS), is a method of determining the risk that the fetus will be born with certain genetic abnormalities. This testing analyzes small fragments of DNA that are circulating in a pregnant woman’s blood. Unlike most DNA, which is found inside a cell’s nucleus, these fragments are free-floating and not within cells, and so are called cell-free DNA (cfDNA). These small fragments usually contain fewer than 200 DNA building blocks (base pairs) and arise when cells die off and get broken down and their contents, including DNA, are released into the bloodstream., NIPT is most often used to look for chromosomal disorders that are caused by the presence of an extra or missing copy (aneuploidy) of a chromosome. NIPT primarily looks for Down syndrome (trisomy 21, caused by an extra chromosome 21), trisomy 18 (caused by an extra chromosome 18), trisomy 13 (caused by an extra chromosome 13), and extra or missing copies of the X chromosome and Y chromosome (the sex chromosomes). The accuracy of the test varies by disorder.

How does it Work

The NIPT workflow consists of several steps, and the complexity for each of these steps can vary widely between tests and the technical approach used. A typical workflow starts with isolating plasma from maternal blood draw. Cell-free DNA (cfDNA) is then extracted from plasma and prepared for analysis.

Data is generated from prepared cfDNA. Sophisticated analysis is then applied to the data.

Illumina NIPT uses whole-genome sequencing with next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology to analyze cfDNA fragments across the whole genome, which has proven advantages over other NIPT methodologies such as targeted sequencing and array-based methods. Test failure rates are substantially lower with whole-genome sequencing versus other methodologies.