We as a country have recently begun the difficult and important conversation about social mobility and intergenerational wealth. A related—though less discussed—problem is that of intergenerational health. It is increasingly clear that our health is powerfully shaped by our own early childhood experiences, as well as by the struggles and triumphs of our parents and grandparents.

This process begins in the womb—and oftentimes before.

In a report published today in Nature Communications, an Ottawa-led team of researchers describe the role of a specific gene, called Snf2h, in the development of the cerebellum. Snf2h is required for the proper development of a healthy cerebellum, a master control centre in the brain for balance, fine motor control and complex physical movements.

Athletes and artists perform their extraordinary feats relying on the cerebellum. As well, the cerebellum is critical for the everyday tasks and activities that we perform, such as walking, eating and driving a car. By removing Snf2h, researchers found that the cerebellum was smaller than normal, and balance and refined movements were compromised.

In a general obstetrical population, prenatal testing with the use of cfDNA had significantly lower false-positive rates and higher positive predictive values for detection of trisomies 21 and 18 than standard screening for Down Syndrome. Note that it is not clear what this test is going to cost for large numbers of patients.