Date Published: August 2018 (1 Min Read)

Aged fourteen, James Harrison underwent life- threatening lung surgery which required a blood transfusion of over eight litres. The experience inspired him to become a donor and, once eighteen, every week or two he’d give blood at his local centre. It was a decade into his modest crusade when doctors discovered that Harrison’s blood could change the world.

Until the late-sixties, doctors in Harrison’s homeland, Australia, fought an unwinnable war. Each year, thousands of babies with Rh+ blood types died due to an adverse response from their mothers’ RhD- blood. Doctors turned to the country’s blood banks and eventually found a potential antibody.

James Harrison had a rare combination of Rh+ and RhD-. They asked him to be a human-guinea pig with a half million-dollar insurance policy. He accepted, joking that his wife had said she ‘could do with the money’.

Today, around 17% of pregnant women in Australia are injected with Anti-D immunoglobulin, and over the years Harrison’s blood donations have prevented approximately 2.4 million deaths. Doctors have never uncovered how his blood came to be so unique, though most point to the life-saving transfusion he received as a child. Now eighty-one, and beyond the donor age limit, Harrison holds the world record for the most blood plasma donations: 1,173. It is a record he hopes is broken, and yes, he’s always had a fear of needles.

A number of the global funds that we buy for our clients have exposure to such Biotechnological discovery.