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What is Rhesus Disease? How it Can Be Cured?

Rhesus Disease
Written by Hassan Abbas

Recently, we posted an article on James Christopher Harrison Blood. But what’s so special about Harrison’s blood? To understand it, we have to review a bit how the factor or Rh of our blood works. In humans, blood is not always the same. Our red blood cells have a diverse composition of proteins on their surface. This composition is like a “code” that identifies them as cells of our body and save us from Rhesus Disease.

Among these proteins is the rhesus factor or Rh. Without going into depth in its operation, we can say that if the red blood cell has a certain protein in its cover, we will have an Rh positive, or Rh +. If it is not found, it is an Rh-negative or Rh-.

If our blood cells are Rh- it is not normal for our body to find an Rh + cell. Imagine what happens: at that very moment, the immune system will detect that there is a strange and potentially dangerous cell, so it will put all the machinery to destroy the cell and any other that resembles it.

Rhesus Disease

The Main Reason for Rhesus Disease:

This is the main reason, grosso modo, of incompatibilities in both blood donations and organ donation. But, in addition, it can cause a terrible problem in pregnant women. How could a strange blood cell enter a body that does not belong and cause Rhesus Disease? Although usually during pregnancy does not pass, at the time of delivery, or under certain circumstances, the blood of the fetus and the mother come to contact.

If the mother is Rh- and the Rh + fetus, the mother’s body will detect a foreign cell and begin to produce defenses. Once the baby is born, nothing happens with it. However, thanks to the wonders of our immune system, the mother’s body will remember this Rh + as a possible attacker.

Rhesus Disease

Image Source: Pixabay

Thus, if in the next pregnancy the fetus presents a positive factor, it will be attacked by the antibodies (which are part of the immune system) of the mother. This can cause an almost total destruction of your blood cells, which translates into a very serious problem for the fetus. Sometimes, even, death.

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What we just described is a summary of what happens, because the thing can be complicated: the mother may be sensitized to Rh + for having received a transfusion or a transplant before, for example, or for other reasons. Rhesus disease or rhesus immunization, better known as hemolytic neonate disease, among many other names, can be very dangerous. And the only way to fight it is with the antibodies that cause it.

A factory with legs

The scar on James Harrison’s chest has reminded him all his life of his donations. At fourteen he had to be operated on by the heart. In that distant 1950, he needed thirteen liters of blood to survive. And he has returned them, with many interests. Harrison has been a donor since he was eighteen when he was able to do so legally.

As we said, James is a permanent producer of Anti-D antibodies. These are the ones in charge of attacking the Rh + blood cells, just those that are detected as foreign in the body with Rh- blood. What can it serve us for, then? Very simple: when a mother has her baby, there is a possibility that her immune system will detect Rh + red blood cells and, then, remember them forever.

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When you have another baby, it will be when the problems start. However, if we use these antibodies to kill these cells before they raise the alarm in the body, the mother’s immune system will not recognize the new baby’s blood as dangerous. For that, the antibodies obtained from Harrison’s serum are used: to kill the “strange” blood cells before they are recognized.

When Was It Discovered:

This interesting turn was discovered in the sixties and, since then, people like Harrison have been looking for avidly. James is the only one of about fifty people estimated in all of Australia with such capacity. James Harrison is, literally, an antibody factory with legs.

Although the technique of producing antibodies has advanced enormously, for decades people like Harrison were the only way to obtain these antibodies. Now we have several techniques for the production of antibodies, but the role of these people has been crucial in their development.

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For all this, people like Harrison, and especially this man, who has reached 1,174 donations, are truly important. Your contribution has managed to save millions of families without expecting anything in return. Every drop of blood we donate is essential and your example shows why. Now, the name of James Harrison will join the list of heroes without cloak or costume, forever.

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About the author

Hassan Abbas

Tech enthusiast with too many items on his wish-list and not nearly enough money! Specializing in all things tech, with a slight Apple bent he has been writing for various blogs for the best part of (too many) years

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