Prenatal tests to diagnose genetic disorders, including amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, have traditionally involved invasive procedures. They are usually only offered in high risk pregnancies, typically when the expectant mother is over 30 years of age, has undergone IVF treatment or there is a prior family history of such conditions. Caution is generally exercised in such cases as these procedures carry a small risk of miscarriage.
But all that is about to change. As The National reported yesterday, research conducted by the Emirati doctor Ghalia Al Mahri at King's College London in 2011 has found that doctors could look for evidence of chromosomal abnormalities through non-invasive means. Her method uses a simple blood test that, according to the study, produces accurate results in 99.9 per cent of cases.
Thanks to her research, the procedure, called "next-generation sequencing" is now available in the UAE, where a study of more than 63,000 babies born in Dubai between 1999 and 2003 found that one out of every 449 babies was born with Down syndrome.
Dr Al Mahri's research is something that the UAE should be justifiably proud of, not least for its contribution to the development of the better understanding of foetal abnormalities.
"My goal is to make an impact on a wider scale and make our UAE health care system one of the best in the world,"said Dr Al Mahri, who plans to return to Abu Dhabi to practise medicine and help shape the health care system here, after spending 13 years outside the country.
In doing so, she will be contributing to a virtuous circle of discovery where younger generations of students begin their years of study and enquiry in this country, then further their knowledge abroad before using their expertise to practical effect in their home country. Such a journey represents one of the most benevolent by-products of globalisation.
This country needs more young people to follow in her footsteps, in all sorts of professions, not just medicine. If even a small percentage of these students were to achieve as much as Dr Al Mahri, imagine what stunning benefits would accrue for us all.