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The University of Amsterdam (UvA) is awarding American neonatologist and medical geneticist Diana Bianchi with an honorary doctorate. This honorary doctorate is awarded to Bianchi for her crucial contributions to research into the health of mother and child before as well as during pregnancy, and especially because of her contribution to the development of the non-invasive prenatal DNA screening test. The honorary doctorate will be presented during the celebration of the UvA Dies Natalis on Wednesday, 8 January 2020.

Diana Bianchi
Diana Bianchi (photo: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development)

Prof. Diana W. Bianchi is renowned for her research into microchimerism and non-invasive prenatal tests (NIPT) which use the mother's blood early in the pregnancy to accurately identify pregnancies in which the foetus has a chromosome or genetic abnormality.

Global scientific impact

‘Diana Bianchi's research is partly responsible for the over 60 per cent global reduction of invasive prenatal tests,’ said Honorary Supervisor Joris van der Post. ‘Rather than the invasive methods such as amniocentesis or placental biopsy used previously, the mother's blood can now be analysed for traces of the foetus's DNA. The NIPT or NIPS (non-invasive prenatal screening) poses no risk to the foetus whatsoever. As a result, Diana's work has made a very meaningful contribution to the well-being of women and children across the globe.’

‘Diana's extensive research into microchimerism, where foreign cells are present in the body, has been the subject of much recognition and praise as well,’ Van der Post added. ‘Her research into microchimerism is held to be the cradle of developing the NIPT.’ Microchimerism occurs during pregnancy when the foetus's cells end up in the mother's bloodstream and organs – or vice versa – and survive there. While much remains unclear about the repercussions of this exchange of cells, there are benefits for the foetus in that the mother’s cells educate the foetus’ immune system, and the foetal cells participate in the repair of maternal organs when there is disease or injury.

Director, founding member and celebrated author

Bianchi is currently director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland. Before this, she was a professor of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, where she also founded the Mother Infant Research Institute at the Tufts Medical Center. Bianchi is one of the four authors of the globally acclaimed book Fetology: Diagnosis and Management of the Fetal Patient. This book, which won the Association of American Publishers award in 2000 for best book in clinical medicine, has been translated into Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish.

Karen Maex, UvA Rector Magnificus: ‘Her excellent research makes Diana Bianchi a great role model for many young scientists. Not only do her peers value her scientific work, but they also praise Bianchi for her communication and leadership skills. It fills me with great pride that the UvA is able to grant Diana Bianchi this honorary doctorate.'

The honorary supervisor is Prof. Joris van der Post, professor of Obstetrics, in particular hypertensive pregnancy disorders, at the Faculty of Medicine.

In addition to Diana Bianchi, Johan Rockström will receive an honorary doctorate from the UvA on the same date.