Scientists Have Discovered a New Set of Blood Groups
Published in Blood Substitutes.
The ‘Er’ grouping could help doctors identify and treat some rare cases of blood incompatibility, including between pregnant mothers and fetuses.
The unborn baby was in trouble. Its mother’s doctors, at a UK hospital, knew there was something wrong with the fetus’s blood, so they decided to perform an emergency C-section many weeks before the baby was due. But despite this, and subsequent blood transfusions, the baby suffered a brain hemorrhage with devastating consequences. It sadly passed away.
It wasn’t clear why the bleeding had happened. But there was a clue in the mother’s blood, where doctors had noticed some strange antibodies. Some time later, as the medics tried to find out more about them, a sample of the mother’s blood arrived at a lab in Bristol run by researchers who study blood groups.
They made a startling discovery: The woman’s blood was of an ultrarare type, which may have made her baby’s blood incompatible with her own. It’s possible that this prompted her immune system to produce antibodies against her baby’s blood—antibodies that then crossed the placenta and harmed her child, ultimately leading to its loss. It may seem implausible that such a thing could happen, but many decades ago, before doctors had a better understanding of blood groups, it was much more common.