Natural Born Killers

Behnaz Heydarchi, Niall Geoghegan, Damian D’Silva
Created | 2023

When a pregnant woman carries a fetus with a different Rhesus D (RhD) blood type, antigens on the baby’s red blood cells can activate the mother’s immune system. If maternal antibodies cross the placenta and attack the baby’s red cells, a condition called haemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN) results.

Treating the mother during pregnancy with anti-RhD immunoglobulin (derived from donor blood) can prevent HDN. This sequence of fluorescence microscopy images shows circulating immune cells known as natural killer cells (in blue) detecting and destroying fetal red blood cells (red) that have been ‘coated’ by anti-RhD antibodies.

By gaining a greater understanding of how anti-RhD treatment works, researcher Behnaz and colleagues hope to find better ways of preventing HDN.

Music by John Sharp