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Early fetal gender detection (gender contagion?)

21 June, 2007

A U.K.-based company markets an early fetal gender detection test; they claim remarkable accuracy (“99%”) at only 6 weeks gestation. DNA Worldwide‘s website describes the test as involving a “blood spot” obtained by doing a finger prick that the woman then mails in to their laboratory, and claims that results published in a Science article in 2005 proved the technique. (They don ‘t provide a link, but a search of the Science archives reveals this article as the one they seem to be refering to; the article does not “prove” their company’s technique and doubts their claims of accuracy.)

Another company, Urobiologics, claims to be able to detect fetal gender using a sample of the pregnant woman’s urine as early as one day after her first missed period. (See this Obstetrics and Gynecology article for an assessment of the science possibly behind the blood test; a search of the PubMed database revealed this review article that is very skeptical of the possibilities of finding extracellular fetal DNA in sufficient quantities to detect in maternal urine, and my cursory PubMed search suggests that no publishing scientists are currently experimenting with fetal gender detection based on testosterone levels in maternal urine.)

Let us set aside entertaining thoughts of a lucrative business scheme in which a private, proprietary (therefore unverified and not monitored by national regulatory bodies) lab test does not have to have any scientific merit whatsoever in order to produce 50% satisfied customers who will receive an apparently correct diagnosis. There remain a couple of interesting things to note here, from an anthropological perspective.

First, the ability of consumers to discover gender at such an early stage in pregnancy has provoked hand-wringing from anxious pundits who seek weighty opinions from certified bioethicists. DNA Worldwide, which manufactures the “Pink or Blue® Gender Test,” attempts to alleviate concerns about sex-selective abortion with reassurances that they are not selling the test “into China and India and some other areas” and that they are a company that “operates in the UK, a liberal society that does not prize babies of one sex over another.” Note the easy deferral of ethics problems to a vague, far away, Oriental Other. Anthropologist Sarah Pinto, in a personal e-mail exchange, articulated the matter well when she questioned

“this idea that gender detection, among other repro technologies, is rationally mediated and managed and used in the west – that there would be no dubious uses of it here because The Problem is in son preference (or whatever gloss is used to apply to a whole complex of issues…) which lives Elsewhere in The East (kind of like female genital cutting, which only lives in Africa and the Middle East, while things like routine episiotomies, re-virgining surgery (or whatever it’s called), genital cosmetic surgery etc etc are completely different things).”

The second interesting point arises from a little line in the homepage of the test website, which states that “It is important…that No Males are in the room during collection” (punctuation as in original document). Sarah brought this to my attention and I was fascinated. What trouble could arise from the mere physical presence of a man in the same room where the blood is drawn? Was it a contamination theory? Curious, I wrote to the company to ask this very question. David Nicholson wrote back to explain,

The reason is because our DNA test works by finding male DNA in the mothers blood. Therefore having a male in the room could cause contamination with the sample.”

OK, so contamination was indeed the theory, but how in the world did they imagine said contamination occuring? I wrote back asking for further clarification:

“what could lead to contamination? A flake of skin or hair from a male getting into the blood sample, for example? Or the breath or sweat of the male?”

I admit to being somewhat facetious with the “breath and sweat” remark, but after a few days I received the reply,

The breath or sweat of the male could cause contamination! It is very sensitive indeed!”*

I am not certain how the breath of a male could lead to DNA contamination, and I suspect neither are most forensics experts (who presumably could make interesting use of this in crime investigations) or defense lawyers (who could use it to dispute crime scene forensics analysis). It seems to me that it might be more accurate to warn consumers of the dangers of letting the test blood or collection materials touch any foreign substance. Phrased in terms of mere male presence, and “breath or sweat,” it sounds like not a question of contamination but of a much more ephemeral contagion.

Gender contagion?

Finally, turning to Urobiologics, my favorite quote from the site came from the FAQ section on May 30th. In response to the question, “But my doctor says it is impossible to do it by urine,” the site stated, “Usually, the customers have the impression that their physician knows everything. This may not be true.” As of this writing, however, they had removed that answer — so satisfying to anyone who has ever questioned medical authority! — and replaced it with the blander: “Research has proven that fetus can be determined by measuring testosterone from urine between 6th to 10th week of pregnancy” and a translation of a 1974 (!) abstract from a German medical journal.

* The second e-mail response was not signed. My thanks to David and DNA Worldwide for their speedy and cordial responses to my e-mail questions.

L.L. Wynn

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 December, 2007 11:29 pm

    Dear Sir,

    This is my reply to your following one sided opinion about us:

    “”Another company, Urobiologics, claims to be able to detect fetal gender using a sample of the pregnant woman’s urine as early as one day after her first missed period. (See this Obstetrics and Gynecology article for an assessment of the science possibly behind the blood test; a search of the PubMed database revealed this review article that is very skeptical of the possibilities of finding extracellular fetal DNA in sufficient quantities to detect in maternal urine, and my cursory PubMed search suggests that no publishing scientists are currently experimenting with fetal gender detection based on testosterone levels in maternal urine.)””

    First of all, we are not detecting any fetal DNA in urine. Obviously it has been mis-interpreted or the information has been mixed up with so called blood Y DNA tests which are failing.

    Secondly, I wish to inform you that urobiologics is the best in the field of gender detection at this time. We were not that good previously and at the same time we claimed an accuracy of 91% in 1999. Important part to know is that to those 9 results out of 100 which had gone wrong, we honestly refunded. Do you know any company claiming such a low accuracy and refunding its customers. I bet NONE.

    Scientist are not experimenting with gender determination by testing urine because no matter what they try, its accuracy never comes above 75%. We are successful because we use several proprietary procedures to reach a determination and right now we are stunningly 98% correct. For your information, we wish to develop world’s first gender test strip and we are looking for financial / technical partners.

    No other gender test, including blood Y DNA one, can beat us in accuracy now.

    Friendly yours,

    Dr. Kuldeep Verma, Pres., Urobiologics LLC

  2. Dr.Raina Massey permalink
    3 September, 2008 6:04 am

    Hello Dr. Kuldeep Verma

    I am impressed with your website and looking forward to develop new ventures in research field.

    After completing my MD I was more involved in clinical research and now have a small CRO with training facilities in states of New York, New Jersey and country india. My company’s name is Clinwell.

    Looking forward as an invester financial partner in developing world’s first gender test strip. Please let me know my no. is 347 601 1621, email: rmassey64@yahoo.com

    Thanks
    Dr.Raina Massey

  3. 5 September, 2008 9:08 pm

    Dr. Raina,

    I’m glad to have your attention. Right now is the best time to enter into this venture with us. The reason being we already had three procedures to evaluate the gender including a wet test that was the best of all, providing us about 95% surety itself. We were doing other procedures also to get as much confidence as possible. This used to take about 4 hours to evaluate one sample.

    Just last month (August 2008) we developed a new wet procedure which provides colored distinction and can be easily modified to prepare a home gender test. As a result of this development, we have eliminated relatively inferior procedures and our efficiency has improved. This also proved that the hypothesis we had in our mind is true.

    Any potential investor should check our accuracy first before seriously committing to it. For that purpose, we are willing to test few cases free of cost (only s/h to be paid). Once satisfied, which we can guarantee now, then we can talk.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Kuldeep Verma

  4. Freecheese permalink
    14 September, 2008 6:23 pm

    Dear Dr Verma,
    What are your response on your attempt to market your product illegally in India ? Your name seems to be Indian. Aren’t you familiar with the potential impact of your product in indian society where gender based feticide is highest in world.

    http://freecheese.wordpress.com/2008/09/14/google-micorsoft-and-yahoo-help-commit-genocide-of-unborn-girls-in-india/

    Thanks

  5. 18 September, 2008 1:50 am

    Dear Sir,
    Please do not take us wrong. We have not been and are not doing any marketing in India. In fact, we have records where we have canceled the orders coming from India right away and no money was charged. We never advertised in India till about 10 days ago when a reputed business lawyer had indicated that if the samples are being tested outside India, there should not be a problem. After that advice India was added for ads for the first time through Google and this incident happened. We now believe that that was a misguidance actually. We didn’t know about any petitions etc against gender tests, nor had any agency informed us. We have since then immediately withdrawn the ads. There was no order received within these days.
    So far, only two customers have misused our system by ordering from us and then sending the package to India. We came to know of it afterwards. After this interview, our perspective has changed. We, as before, hereby commit ourselves not to register or encourage any order linked to India, directly or indirectly, provided we know of it.
    Please advise what else can be done to be aligned with Mr. Sabu George’s great efforts.

  6. Zulfiqar Ali permalink
    26 November, 2008 9:48 pm

    I want to know abt all information on early fetal detection. i am from pakistan please send me information.

  7. kirshnaveni permalink
    12 January, 2009 6:37 pm

    Hi,
    I saw this article about gender detection and with great anticipation I am asking if I can avail of this. I am from India but I am a carrier of haemophilia which is a sex linked disease. where only males will be affected. I want to know early if the baby is a boy or girl so that I can for further tests. Please give me more information on this.

  8. 18 January, 2009 1:54 am

    Mrs. Kirshnaveni,

    If you can get a medical note faxed to us at 1-734-422-5342 (USA) to my attention with your address and credit card number, we can do this test for you. The intention is purely to extend help in needy cases and in this case we won’t charge our test fee (only shipping and handling cost, approx USD 100.00, will have to paid by you). I hope we are not taking any risk. Mr. Sabu and others to permit in this case or comment. Still if there is an objection, we won’t go ahead.

    Madam, please rest assure about the accuracy of the result. We are normally running around 98% correct in this test. If you are under strong hormonal medicine then the accuracy might be slightly less.

    Sincerely,

    Kuldeep Verma

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