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Questions Raised Over Accuracy of Gender Test

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We have an update this morning to our report on a widely publicized genetic test that's been sold to thousands of pregnant women. It's called the Baby Gender Mentor. Customers and scientists are questioning its accuracy and its marketing claims. Now one law enforcement agency is investigating. NPR's Nell Boyce reports.

NELL BOYCE reporting:

The company that makes the Baby Gender Mentor test says it can use a few drops of a woman's blood to reveal the sex of her fetus. The company, Accugen biolab, of Lowell, Massachusetts, claims 99.9 percent accuracy as early as five weeks into a pregnancy. Some scientists are very skeptical, and more than a dozen women have told NPR that the test got their baby's sex wrong. Accugen has declined repeated requests to discuss how it developed the test and how it determined its accuracy.

The test's main promoter is Sherry Bonelli. She sells it through her company, pregnancystore.com, which is based in Illinois. Now the state attorney general there has opened an investigation. Gail O'Connor is the attorney general's spokesperson.

Ms. GAIL O'CONNOR (Spokeswoman, Illinois Attorney General): Our office will be trying to gather information about the role of the company in the sale of the product and also whether or not there have been any consumer fraud laws broken.

BOYCE: In an e-mail, Sherry Bonelli told NPR that she was not aware of the investigation into her company. She wrote: `We have committed no consumer fraud.' And she said she has complete confidence in Accugen's test. Accugen executives could not be reached for comment. Bonelli also said that many of the women who have complained about incorrect results are relying on sex determinations made by sonograms. She says sonograms can be wrong up to 20 percent of the time, and studies say that's true. But in several cases, expectant parents say Accugen's results are contradicted by an amniocentesis test, which is far more accurate than a sonogram. One dissatisfied client is Isaac Bensmall(ph), who lives in Florida. Accugen told his wife, Abby(ph), that she was carrying a boy. An amnio showed it was a girl. He called Bonelli at pregnancystore.com to get a refund.

Mr. ISAAC BENSMALL (Dissatisfied Accugen Customer): They have a 200 percent money-back guarantee, so I was really calling just to say, `Hey, you guys were wrong. Send me my money back.'

BOYCE: He says Bonelli offered the couple a retest. They just wanted a refund. Then his wife got an e-mail from Accugen. The company said it had tested her blood sample again and learned that she'd originally had twins, a boy and a girl. It said the boy twin had vanished.

Mr. BENSMALL: It almost sounds like you, you know--you had a baby conceived that died. So I thought that that was very distressing for them to present it in that way.

BOYCE: Researchers say that vanishing twins do sometimes happen, but Bensmall says their doctor did a sonogram before his wife took the Accugen test. It showed just one fetus. Bensmall isn't the only customer upset by Accugen's refund policy. Some have complained to the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates marketing claims. As a matter of policy, the agency won't say if it's investigating. Nell Boyce, NPR News.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.