CLOSE

One Man's Donated Blood Has Saved More Than Two Million Lives

Even though 78-year-old James Harrison hates the sight of blood and has a self-professed low pain tolerance, he has been donating blood nearly every week since he was legally old enough. He was inspired to do so after someone else's donated blood saved his life during a chest operation when he was 14.

While all blood donors have the potential to make a difference in someone's life, Harrison is special. The plasma from his blood has the ability to cure a deadly disease.

In Australia, where Harrison lives, rhesus disease—a condition in which a pregnant woman's blood begins attacking her unborn baby's blood cells—was claiming the lives of thousands of babies a year before 1967. If a pregnant woman has rhesus-negative blood and the baby in her womb has rhesus-positive blood, inherited from its father, the mother's body may react by producing antibodies that actively seek out and destroy the baby's "foreign" blood cells, resulting in brain damage or death.

Shortly after his first donation when he was 18, doctors called Harrison with a big announcement: He might be the solution to this mysterious disease, as his plasma contained a rare rhesus antibody. Over the course of the 1960s, Harrison worked with doctors to develop an injection called Anti-D, which prevents expectant mothers from developing the harmful antibodies. Ever since then, Anti-D has been used to successfully ward off rhesus disease throughout Australia.

"Every bag of blood is precious, but James' blood is particularly extraordinary," says Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. "His blood is actually used to make a life-saving medication, given to moms whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies. Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James' blood. And more than 17% of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives."

Over 2,000,000, according to estimates by the Australian Red Cross blood service.

Since the discovery, Harrison has donated plasma more than 1,000 times. But his opportunities are dwindling. In Australia, people must retire from plasma donation at the age of 81, which is just three years away for Harrison.

"I guess for us the hope is there will be people who will donate, who will also ... have this antibody and become life savers in the same way he has, and all we can do is hope there will be people out there generous enough to do it, and selflessly in the way he's done," says Falkenmire.

[h/t CNN]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
iStock
iStock

Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Medicine
New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
iStock
iStock

About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios