How A Difficult Pregnancy Led To Medical Innovation

Feb 13, 2020

Pregnancy can be incredibly difficult. Sometimes the hardest part is not knowing what’s really happening to the fetus and whether it’s developing into a healthy human being.

When Dr. Aoy Tomita-Mitchell was pregnant, she was faced with a serious dilemma that could have risked the health and safety of her fetus. She and her husband, Dr. Michael Mitchell, took their problem and created a solution: the Harmony prenatal test.

“This test was developed out of a personal need,” says Tomita-Mitchell. Her unborn child tested into a high-risk category for having a genetic problem. A possible next course of action was Amniocentesi, a test that screens for abnormalities in the fetus but comes with risks of fetal loss. She spent the remainder of her pregnancy developing a safer way.

“She came up with a really ingenious solution whereby you could take a sample of blood from the mother and look at fragments of DNA that are circulating in the mother’s plasma and then you can actually see the component that’s from the fetus and analyze it,” says Mitchell.

Tomita-Mitchell is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Mitchell is a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at the Herma Heart Institute of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Together, they share a laboratory in the Children’s Research Institute and they have founded two biotechnology startup companies, including TAI Diagnostics based in Wauwatosa.