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Health

The man with golden arm Laleh Lohrasbi tells the story of how the cure for Rhesus disease was found

J

ames Harrison is the Australian donor whose blood has saved millions of lives over the world including almost all of the Australian babies at risk of developing Rhesus disease. Rhesus disease is a condition in which antibodies in a pregnant woman's blood destroy her baby's blood cells. It's also known as haemolytic disease of the foetus and newborn (HDFN). One out of every 1000 babies is subjected to Rhesus disease, a form of severe anaemia that may occur in the second or subsequent pregnancies of Rh-negative women when the foetus’s father is Rh positive. The disease can be prevented with two simple intramuscular injections during the first pregnancy, but what is the injection and where does it come from? Today blood groups are so well known that everybody knows what their blood type is and is aware of what blood types they can receive in a medical emergency. However, just less than one hundred years ago, it was not so. The first blood transfusion was performed in 1900, but back then doctors wondered why some transfusions were successful while others were deadly. It took a quarter of a century for physicians to find out about blood groups and their subgroups. There are four principle blood groups known as A, B, AB and O. Blood groups are determined by proteins called antigens which can be found

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November 2017

on the membrane of red blood cells. People who have an antigen on their red blood cells have blood group A, while people with B antigens, have blood group B. People who have both A and B antigens have blood group AB and those who do not have any of the above antigens have blood group O. However, there are also some other kinds of antigens on the blood cells’ membrane of which the most important is Rh (D) antigen or factor. The existence or lack of this factor determines whether one is Rh positive or negative. All of the A, B, AB or O blood groups can be Rh positive or negative. The importance of blood groups

comes into light when blood transfusion is needed. Each blood group is compatible with its own antigens and if exposed to other antigens the body will start to make antibodies against them. For example, if someone with blood group A receives blood from group B, his or her body will produce antibodies against B antigens, which by attaching to the red blood cells will coagulate the red blood cells and cause death. The same thing can happen in the case of infusion of Rh-positive blood to someone who is Rh negative. When a woman who is Rh-negative is having a baby whose father is Rh positive, there is a high probability that the infant will become Rh

Islam Today issue 53 November 2017  

A monthly magazine on faith, belief, community, interfaith, health and more...