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