How one man’s unique blood became life-saving medication

| | June 12, 2015
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

On the surface, James Harrison is just an average guy. He loves his daughter and grandchildren, collects stamps, and goes for walks near his home on Australia’s central coast. But it’s what’s under the surface that makes him extraordinary — specifically, what’s flowing in his veins.

Soon after Harrison became a donor, doctors called him in. His blood, they said, could be the answer to a deadly problem.

“In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn’t know why, and it was awful,” explains Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. “Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage.”

 

It was the result of rhesus disease — a condition where a pregnant woman’s blood actually starts attacking her unborn baby’s blood cells. In the worst cases it can result in brain damage, or death, for the babies.

Rhesus disease happens when a pregnant woman has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her womb has rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive), inherited from its father. If the mother has been sensitized to rhesus-positive blood, usually during a previous pregnancy with an rhesus-positive baby, she may produce antibodies that destroy the baby’s “foreign” blood cells.

Harrison was discovered to have an unusual antibody in his blood and in the 1960s he worked with doctors to use the antibodies to develop an injection called Anti-D. It prevents women with rhesus-negative blood from developing RhD antibodies during pregnancy.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: This man’s blood has saved the lives of two million babies

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