EU funding to prevent haemorrhages in newborns
21 May 2012
Thrombocytopenia means a lack of platelets, which increases the risk of haemorrhaging. Around 4 000 children a year in Europe are born with the disease
A research network now wants to develop a ‘vaccine’ that could be used in at-risk pregnancies. Lund University is a member of the network, which is coordinated from Tromsø in Norway and which has received EUR 6 million in EU funding to develop the ‘vaccine’.
It is a well-known fact that an RhD negative woman can develop antibodies against the foetus’s red blood cells if these are RhD positive, and this is quite easily prevented. FNAIT (foetal and neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia) is a condition caused by a similar mechanism, in which a woman who lacks a certain antigen on her platelets can develop antibodies against the foetus’s platelets.
As yet, there is no way to prevent this condition.
Unborn and newborn babies with FNAIT have a greater risk of haemorrhages. In Europe, between 500 and 1 000 children a year suffer brain haemorrhages due to this condition.
Because FNAIT is a relatively unusual disease, the major pharmaceutical companies have so far shown no interest in developing a cure or preventive treatment. Therefore, the European Medicine Agency has given Orphan Drug Designation to the drug being developed by the research network. This gives them sole rights to the sale of the product in the EU for ten years.
The researchers already have a proposed treatment that has produced promising results in animal experiments. Now the treatment needs to be tested on humans, and this requires 2 000 litres of blood plasma from women who have given birth to children with thrombocytopenia due to antibodies against platelets. In Norway there are around 200 such women, and through researchers and doctors in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, it is hoped that a further 300 can be contacted. The members of the research network in Lund are Consultant Jens Kjeldsen-Kragh, an expert on platelets, and Martin L. Olsson, Professor and Consultant in Transfusion Medicine.
Sensitisation, i.e. the woman’s formation of antibodies against the foetus’s platelets, takes place when her first child is born. It is possible to prevent this using a ‘vaccine’. For this to work, the platelet type must be investigated in all first-time mothers to identify the women who lack the antigen on their platelets and therefore run the risk of having a child with FNAIT.