Institution:Columbia University College Of Physicians and Surgeons
Vincent J. Freda, MD, and John Gorman, MD, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons
Scientists had previously established that the cause of hemolytic disease in newborns—an often-fatal condition—occurs when a mother who is Rh-negative (meaning her blood does not contain the Rh antigen) develops antibodies to her baby’s Rh-positive blood. Any mixing of blood that may occur during delivery can result in destruction of the baby’s blood cells. The production of these antibodies increases with subsequent pregnancies. Freda and Gorman began to develop a vaccine that contained Rh immune globulin, allowing the immune system to recognize the Rh factor without attacking it. Giving the vaccine to Rh-negative pregnant women within 72 hours of delivery, they showed, prevented their newborns from developing hemolytic disease. Widespread use of the vaccine, which is now given to Rh-negative pregnant mothers at 32 weeks and again within 72 hours of delivery, has nearly eliminated the disease in newborns. In 1980, Freda and Gorman earned the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award for their work.