Checkmate on Rh Disease

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Global Alliance to eradicate the disease kicks off at Stanford

STANFORD, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The CURhE (Consortium for Universal Rh
disease Elimination) is a global alliance set up to eradicate
Hemolytic Disease of the Fetus and the Newborn (HDFN), a well-understood
condition which, since 1970, is easily and cheaply preventable. Nearly
fifty years ago a way of preventing HDFN was developed that almost
overnight saved some 10,000 fetuses and newborn babies every year just
in the United States: a true “miracle of modern medicine”. But the
tragedy eliminated here in North America and in Europe still haunts much
of the world. Every year more than 300,000 babies die or are severely
damaged by HDFN. Now a newly formed coalition of researchers,
practitioners, NGO’s and industry partners is determined to change that.

Among CURhE’s founding members are the Stanford University School of
Medicine, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and three leading
companies in the medical field: Kedrion Biopharma, based in Lucca,
Italy, which produces the most widely known preventative treatment for
HDFN; Capnia, a San Francisco company focused on novel therapeutic and
diagnostic healthcare products; and Eldon Biologicals, a Danish company
that produces a quick and simple method to determine Rh blood group.

CURhE’s inaugural planning meeting will be held at Stanford University
on March 7. The founding members of the Consortium will be gathering to
formulate a global strategic plan, a set of tactics and fund-raising
activities. Pediatricians and neonatologists from 16 countries around
the world will be joining the meeting together with International
Federation of Obstetric and Gynecologists and the International
Pediatric Association.

About Rh disease and CURhE

HDFN or Rh disease is the result of a mismatch between a pregnant
woman’s blood and that of her developing fetus. One characteristic of a
person’s blood is whether it has a protein called an Rh Factor. If you
have this protein – and most people do – your blood is called “Rh
Positive”. People whose blood does not have this protein are said to be
“Rh Negative”. For the most part people with Rh Negative blood suffer no
ill consequences – many people never know their Rh type. But if a woman
who is Rh Negative is pregnant with an Rh Positive fetus (as a result of
having an Rh Positive father), the baby – and especially subsequent
pregnancies – could be in great danger.

Here is how: Rh Positive and Rh Negative blood types are not compatible.
A person having one type should not, for example, receive blood of the
other type if a transfusion is needed. Fetal red blood cells enter the
maternal circulation throughout pregnancy. Although in minute amounts,
it is enough to call the mother’s immune system into action. Over time
it can produce defenses, called antibodies – in this case “anti-Rh
antibodies” – to fight what it considers a potentially dangerous
“foreign intruder,” much as it would if it detected an infection or a
virus.

These defenses are usually not sufficiently martialed to harm the baby
before it is born and on its own, but one of the great characteristics
of the human immune system is that it remembers past “intruders” and how
to fight them. This is why we get many infections, like measles, only
once. Our bodies are prepared to fight that particular threat if and
when it shows up again, even years later.

So with this first exposure our mother has acquired, as part of her
immune system, the readiness to fight the Rh protein. If she gets
pregnant again with an Rh Positive baby, the consequences are now dire:
the fetus may die; the newborn may die or suffer nerve tissue damage in
the brain, resulting in a condition known as kernicterus. Multiple
transfusions – even in utero – are needed to save these children;
prevention is clearly the best option – especially in the less developed
world where sophisticated treatment options are not likely to be
available.

Prophylactic treatment, which prevents the mother from developing the
anti-Rh antibodies, is simple (one or two shots), available and
inexpensive, but a lack of awareness, poor communication and inadequate
infrastructure result in thousands of tragic endings, especially in
Africa and Southern Asia.

Now, three pre-eminent scholar-practitioners, Dr. Alvin Zipursky, Chair
and Scientific Director of the Programme for Global Paediatric Research
at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto; Dr. Vinod K. Bhutani,
professor of pediatrics at Stanford University; and Dr. Giuseppe
Buonocore from Siena University in Italy, have formed an international
coalition to change that. Known as CURhE (Consortium for Universal
Rh-disease Elimination), its ambitious goal is clear in
its title.

Contacts

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford
Stanford University
School of Medicine
Erin Digitale, PhD
Pediatrics Writer
650-724-9175
digitale@stanford.edu
or
Health
Biz Write Now, LLC
Sheila A. Burke, 484-667-6330
HealthBizWriteNow@gmail.com