The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK plans to launch a new test to detect a rare form of eye cancer, called retinoblastoma, in unborn babies.

Developed at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, the new test will be rolled out in England this week.

To perform the test, a blood sample is taken from the mother before the child’s birth. Subsequently, the sample is assessed and analysed for mutations to determine if the baby will develop retinoblastoma.

This will allow treatment to be started as soon as the baby is born and may help to save their eyesight. The test could also help to predict if a child’s siblings will develop retinoblastoma.

Retinoblastoma usually affects young children. Symptoms of retinoblastoma are hard to identify, and late diagnosis can lead to the loss of the affected eye or eyes and even death.

The new test will be offered to families with a history of retinoblastoma. It is expected to detect around 50 infants with retinoblastoma every year.

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The introduction of this pioneering new test is fantastic news for babies and their parents, and has the potential to save hundreds of lives over the coming years.

“Cancer is such a terrible illness and a baby being born with it can have a huge impact on parents and families during what should be an incredibly happy time, but backed by world-class innovation and services like the NHS Genomic Medicine Service, through the Long Term Plan the NHS is developing and delivering more cutting edge treatments like this one to help save lives and keep families together.”

Last month, the NHS announced that Parkinson’s patients will receive smartwatches to help doctors monitor their condition remotely.