for females ages up to 64 years (full criteria)
at San Francisco, California
study started
estimated completion
Principal Investigator
by Mary Norton, MD



The investigator aims to examine the clinical utility of WES, including assessment of a variety of health-related and reproductive outcomes in undiagnosed prenatal cases.


Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is changing the paradigm of clinical genetic testing. Unlike highly focused single-gene tests, NGS allows one to examine gene panels, the exome, and the whole genome. With the broad array of molecular tests now available, ordering physicians face the conundrum of selecting the best diagnostic tool for patients with suspected genetic conditions. Single-gene testing is often most appropriate for conditions with distinctive clinical features and minimal locus heterogeneity. NGS-based gene panel testing, which can be complemented with chromosomal microarray analysis (CMA) and other ancillary methods, provides a comprehensive and feasible approach for well documented but genetically heterogeneous disorders. Whole exome sequencing (WES) and whole genome sequencing (WGS) have the advantage of enabling parallel interrogation of most of the genes in the human genome. To some, WES is preferable to previously used methods due to higher diagnostic yield, shorter time to diagnosis, and improved cost-efficiency. The ability to survey the exome opens up both new opportunities and new challenges. For example, all coding regions of known genes must be analyzed when applying WES to undiagnosed cases with unclear inheritance patterns. Current limitations on variant interpretation capabilities and clinical validity raise questions about the clinical utility of WES as either a stand-alone or a first-choice diagnostic test. Additional challenges include pre- and post-test counseling with appropriate and robust informed consent, bioinformatics analysis setup and validation, variant interpretation and classification, the need for policies and protocols concerning the discovery and reporting of secondary findings unrelated to the presenting indication, a requirement for validation of WES results, assurance of conformation to quality control standards, data storage and accessibility, and reimbursement issues. Current clinical standards recommend offering chromosomal microarray (CMA) in the prenatal setting when fetal structural anomalies are detected via prenatal ultrasound. In these cases, clinically relevant copy number variants have been reported in 6.0-9.1% of fetuses with a normal karyotype. However, informed consent processes for prenatal CMA are challenging-particularly in cases with ultrasound anomalies, as parents are absorbing challenging news and under considerable stress. Women have reported being "blindsided" by positive CMA results, or feeling that these results were "toxic information"-information they wished they did not have, particularly in cases of uncertain genetic information or uninterpretable variants. Nonetheless, in that same study women who were referred for CMA because of ultrasound anomalies reported less frequent negative reactions, since they already anticipated abnormal results. Introducing WES into prenatal clinical care of underrepresented populations raises additional issues and considerations of payment coverage, access, and standards of care. Beyond the sheer complexity of the test and its results, clinicians and health systems must address numerous considerations, including: private and public insurance coverage; language and culture differences and their implications for genetic counseling and clinician-patient relationships; ability to access follow-up testing and clinical care; ability to access appropriate treatment and services; and particularly in the prenatal setting, local, state, and national abortion laws and decision-making about pregnancy termination. These issues and others will affect not only patients' decision-making regarding WES, but also their post-test needs for patient follow up, counseling and support. The importance of systematically assessing the clinical utility of NGS is critical for determining in which clinical and health care contexts WES will be useful and for commencing research on these considerations. The investigator aims to examine the clinical utility of WES, including assessment of a variety of health-related and reproductive outcomes in undiagnosed prenatal cases.


Structural Anomalies Cardiac Anomalies Central Nervous System Anomalies Thorax Anomalies Genito-urinary Anomalies Gastrointestinal Anomalies Skeletal Anomalies Multiple Anomalies Nervous System Malformations Urogenital Abnormalities Heart Defects, Congenital Congenital Abnormalities Whole Exome Sequencing (WES) WES


You can join if…

Open to females ages up to 64 years

  • Women carrying a pregnancy with an ultrasound diagnosis of a major structural anomaly (or multiple anomalies) in a major organ system (cardiac, central nervous system, thorax, genito-urinary, gastrointestinal/ventral wall, skeletal and or multiple anomalies )
  • Clinical concern for a potential underlying genetic condition
  • Completed or plan to complete chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis with chromosome analysis or microarray
  • Available maternal sample

You CAN'T join if...

  • Prior WES performed for a clinical or research indication
  • Lack of phenotypic indication of a likely underlying genetic etiology
  • Mother unwilling or unable to provide a specimen


  • University of California San Francisco
    San Francisco California 94143 United States

Lead Scientist at UCSF

  • Mary Norton, MD
    Professor, Ob/Gyn, Reproductive Sciences, School of Medicine. Authored (or co-authored) 232 research publications


in progress, not accepting new patients
Start Date
Completion Date
University of California, San Francisco
Study Type
Last Updated