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Clin Chem. 2008 Oct;54(10):1664-72. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2008.111385. Epub 2008 Aug 14.

Microfluidics digital PCR reveals a higher than expected fraction of fetal DNA in maternal plasma.

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  • 1Centre for Research into Circulating Fetal Nucleic Acids, Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong.



The precise measurement of cell-free fetal DNA in maternal plasma facilitates noninvasive prenatal diagnosis of fetal chromosomal aneuploidies and other applications. We tested the hypothesis that microfluidics digital PCR, in which individual fetal-DNA molecules are counted, could enhance the precision of measuring circulating fetal DNA.


We first determined whether microfluidics digital PCR, real-time PCR, and mass spectrometry produced different estimates of male-DNA concentrations in artificial mixtures of male and female DNA. We then focused on comparing the imprecision of microfluidics digital PCR with that of a well-established nondigital PCR assay for measuring male fetal DNA in maternal plasma.


Of the tested platforms, microfluidics digital PCR demonstrated the least quantitative bias for measuring the fractional concentration of male DNA. This assay had a lower imprecision and higher clinical sensitivity compared with nondigital real-time PCR. With the ZFY/ZFX assay on the microfluidics digital PCR platform, the median fractional concentration of fetal DNA in maternal plasma was > or =2 times higher for all 3 trimesters of pregnancy than previously reported.


Microfluidics digital PCR represents an improvement over previous methods for quantifying fetal DNA in maternal plasma, enabling diagnostic and research applications requiring precise quantification. This approach may also impact other diagnostic applications of plasma nucleic acids, e.g., in oncology and transplantation.

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