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.