Thursday, November 14th, 2013
William Pollack, a medical researcher who worked at the Ortho Pharmaceutical Company in Raritan, N.J., in the early 1960s, has died at age 87. While Pollack’s is not a household name, he is responsible for helping to develop the vaccine against Rh disease, an illness caused by seemingly minor differences in the blood types of pregnant women and their fetuses. Pregnant women today are routinely tested for Rh status, and if they are Rh negative, they receive the vaccine so their bodies will not mistakenly attack their babies’ cells if the babies are Rh positive. More on Pollack and his work from The New York Times:
Rh disease occurs when a pregnant woman is Rh negative and her fetus is Rh positive. In the mixing of blood between the two during pregnancy, the mother’s Rh-negative blood cells produce antibodies that attack the blood cells of the fetus. Depending on the strength of the mother’s immune response, the effects on the baby can range from mild anemia to stillbirth.
Dr. Pollack and his partners devised an “ingenious” counterattack, as it was described in an introduction to their work in “Hematology: Landmark Papers of the Twentieth Century,” a collection published in 2000 by hematologist organizations.
The three men produced a vaccine that patrols the mother’s body, dispatches invading Rh-positive cells and causes no harm to the fetus. The vaccine was made from a passive Rh-negative antibody, which soon wears out. It not only solves the mother’s temporary immunity problem but also, more important, prevents her immune system from mounting a full-fledged response of its own, which would endanger the fetus she was carrying as well as any future ones.
“It was an absolutely brilliant idea,” said Dr. Richard L. Berkowitz, the obstetrics and gynecology director of resident education at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital. “A lot of people know who Jonas Salk is, but they should know William Pollack’s name, too. This disease was a major, major problem, and it’s been virtually eradicated.”
Researchers had developed other approaches to treating Rh blood disease, including potentially dangerous intrauterine transfusions, before the idea of a vaccine emerged. Among his other contributions, Dr. Pollack was credited with devising the process in which the blood components needed to make the vaccine are isolated and recombined in a liquid solution.
Image: Vaccine, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
The first large-scale study to link autism with autoimmunity has been published in the journal Molecular Biology. The study found that as many as 1 in 10 mothers of autistic children have antibodies in their bloodstream that react with proteins in the brains of their developing fetuses. More from ScienceDaily.com:
…While the blood-brain barrier in the adult women prevents them from being harmed by the antibodies, that same filter in the fetuses is not well-developed enough and so may allow the “anti-brain” antibodies to pass through to the babies’ brains, possibly causing autism.
The study was led by Dr. Betty Diamond, head of the Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Disorders at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Long Island, New York, who said the very large sample size “gives a clearer impression of the prevalence of these antibodies.”
“We at AARDA applaud Dr. Diamond’s research into an area that concerns all parents,” said Virginia T. Ladd, President of American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc. (AARDA).
According to AARDA, in healthy people, when a foreign invader, such as a virus or bacteria, enters the body, the immune system produces antibodies to attack those foreign substances. In people with autoimmunity, the immune system mistakenly recognizes the body’s own healthy tissues and organs as foreign invaders and produces antibodies to attack them. These auto-antibodies — or antibodies produced against the self — then cause disease. The disease that results depends upon which tissues and/or organs the antibodies are attacking.
Some 50 million Americans live and cope with autoimmune disease (AD), 75 percent of whom are women.
Image: Pregnant woman, via Shutterstock
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Friday, July 12th, 2013
Testing a pregnant woman’s blood for six distinct antibodies may be able to predict with more than 99 percent certainty whether her baby has a significant risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). New research, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, found that 23 percent of all autism cases can be traced to the set of antibodies, which interfere with brain development while the baby is in utero. More from Time.com:
The research is already leading to what could be the first biological test for autism; the antibodies are found almost exclusively in mothers of autistic children, and not in children with other types of disorders or in mothers of non-autistic children. Only 1% of mothers whose children were not affected by autism had the antibodies in their blood, compared to 23% of mothers of autistic children. Judith Van de Water, an immunologist and professor of internal medicine at the University of California Davis MIND Institute and the study’s lead author, has consulted for a company, Pediatric Bioscience, that is developing a commercial version of the test, but the research was not funded by that organization and was supported primarily by the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences.
“We haven’t found any [mothers] who have these antibodies and don’t have children with some sort of developmental disability issue,” says Van de Water. “We feel this really identifies a subtype of autism.”
The antibodies belong to a class of compounds called autoantibodies, which are immune cells that the body makes to target — often mistakenly — its own cells. Scientists do not know why or when the mothers produce these antibodies, which appear to monkey with normal nerve development in the fetal brain by interfering with their growth, migration and genetic replication. It is possible that infections during pregnancy — a known risk factor for autism —can prompt the immune system to produce them. Exposure to toxic chemicals can also cause immune defenders to mistake healthy cells for invaders, Van de Water notes.
The study involved 246 autistic children and their mothers, as well as 149 typically developing children. Of the mothers tested, all but one with the antibodies had an autistic child— and the child of the remaining mother had ADHD, a condition that often occurs along with autism. That suggests that a positive test almost certainly indicates a developmental disability. However, since 77% of the mothers of autistic children did not have these antibodies, Van de Water says, a negative test would not rule out all risk of autism.
And so far, the presence of the antibodies do not seem to be associated with any particular form of autism. “Certain behaviors seem to be associated with this, including stereotyped repetitive behavior like hand-flapping and lower levels of expressive language,” says Van de Water, but no unique behavioral signature has been found so far. The children also did not seem to score differently on cognitive tests than other youngsters with autism.
Image: Pregnant woman having blood drawn, via Shutterstock
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