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Finn, Ronald

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Ronald Finn

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Ronald Finn
(June 12, 1930 - May 21, 2004)
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1960

Image Courtesy: Lasker Foundation

Discovered How to Prevent Disease that often Killed Newborns

Finn, a young student in Liverpool, began his groundbreaking study in 1959. Working under Dr. Cyril Clarke, head of Liverpool University's Department of Medicine, Finn was the first to propose a means by which to protect against Rh haemolytic disease. Finn proposed, and later proved, that administration of an extraneous anti-Rh (D) serum prevents a woman from becoming sensitized to the Rh antigen. This, in turn, protects the mother's offspring from developing Rh haemolytic disease.

Rh haemolytic disease is also known as Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn (HDN). This is a serious, and sometimes fatal disease that occurs when a fetus's blood type is incompatible with the mother's blood type. Blood is not only classified by type (A, B, O, AB) but also by what is known as Rhesus factor, or Rh factor. The Rh factor is either positive or negative. HDN can occur if a mother is Rh negative and a baby, having inherited the father's trait, is Rh positive. When a child is delivered, it's common for some of its red blood cells to enter into the mother's bloodstream. When this occurs, the mother's system (Rh negative) sees the newborn's blood (Rh positive) as an invader, and this triggers an immune response. The first child born escapes harm, but the mother is now "sensitized" to the Rh positive factor. If this Rh negative mother has subsequent Rh positive babies, the immune response begins immediately, attacking them while they are still in the womb. This attack may produce only minimal complications, such as mild anemia and jaundice, or may result in life-threatening conditions, such as seizures, heart failure and brain damage. Thanks to Finn's discovery, Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn is highly preventable, and virtually all pregnant women are now tested for Rh factor.

Ronald Finn's inspiration didn't come in the middle of the night, hunched over his laboratory table wrestling with his dilemma. His came in the full light of day - on the busy streets of Liverpool. His first task in researching HDN was to visit various parts of the city and collect blood specimens from at-risk parents and children. He found a surprising pattern - 80 percent of the at-risk children did not develop the disease. His testing revealed these infants and mothers had different blood types, known as an ABO incompatibility. This meant the mother's immune system destroyed the fetus' red blood cells when they entered her body - and therefore she did not develop the Rh factor sensitization. But, the children who were not ABO incompatible had no such protection. Finn, however, believed he could produce the same protection by giving the mother an anti-Rh antibody. He felt this would destroy any fetal red blood cells within her bloodstream, and also avert her from becoming sensitized to the Rh factor. He was the first scientist to propose this theory to a scientific gathering in 1960, and he went on to prove his theory in clinical trials. His discovery is credited with saving over one-half million lives.

Finn was a dedicated Jew and looked at his work from a humanitarian viewpoint. He treasured the scientific contributions he made and, later in his life, reflected that his work was a way of "giving back some of what the holocaust took."



Introduction by Tim Anderson


Table of Contents

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Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Key Contributing Scientists
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

The Lasker Foundation - Clinical Medical Research Award Profile:

The Times, London obituary:

British Medical Journal

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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Key Contributing Scientists to the Discovery

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science