2 LDS doctors find medical breakthrough

The relationship between two LDS scientists who were brought together by a common interest in Church history has led to the development of a lifesaving drug.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of infant pneumonia worldwide, causing up to 4,500 deaths and 90,000 hospitalizations of infants in the United States each year, and countless others throughout the world.Efforts to prevent RSV pneumonia had been unsuccessful until Dr. Gregory A. Prince of Potomac, Md., and Dr. Val G. Hemming of Gaithersburg, Md., initiated their research effort. Their observations, and subsequently their collaboration with many other investigators, led to the development of RespiGam(TM), the only drug available for the prevention of RSV infection. RespiGam was licensed by the United States Food and Drug Administration in January.

The two scientists met when Dr. Hemming, then a colonel and physician in the U.S. Air Force, moved to Maryland to join the faculty of the F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU). He and his wife, Alice, purchased a home for their family in the Gaithersburg Ward, Washington D.C. Stake, where Dr. Prince and his wife, JaLynn, had moved five years earlier so he could work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"Our initial area of common interest was not science," said Dr. Hemming, "but Church history. It was only after many hours of discussion about LDS history that we discovered an opportunity for scientific collaboration."

The formal collaboration, which began in 1982, continues to produce information published in medical and scientific journals.

Dr. Prince, who received doctorate degrees at UCLA, began research on RSV in 1973.

"Our research at NIH was leading us to the hypothesis that antibody may prevent serious RSV disease in infants," he said. "At the same time, Dr. Hemming's research on serious bacterial infections of newly born infants was leading him to similar observations on the value of antibody. Our contact at Church functions and the close proximity of our laboratories, which were across the street from each other, greatly facilitated the development of a formal collaboration."

Dr. Hemming completed medical school and training in infectious diseases at the University of Utah College of Medicine and residency training in pediatrics in Texas. During a clinical study seeking better treatment for certain bacterial infections in newborns, a serendipitous event occurred.

According to Dr. Hemming: "One of our study centers in Colorado enrolled a Native American baby who had pneumonia of unknown cause. This baby received an infusion of purified human antibody, and to the surprise of the attending physicians, took a dramatic turn for the better.

"Shortly after this occurred, and to our great surprise, we received a laboratory report verifying that the baby had RSV pneumonia."

The antibody hypothesis and the observations from this infant suggested that antibody, collected from adult human plasma donors, might be used to prevent serious RSV lung infections in infants and young children.

Using their combined observations, the two scientists and other collaborators succeeded in obtaining funding from NIH to conduct clinical trials to test the ability of anti-RSV antibody to prevent RSV disease in infants with chronic lung or heart diseases.

Over the next six years, the studies involved more than 70 medical centers across the U.S., and more than 1,500 infants and young children.

"We have gained a deep appreciation of the complex process by which an idea can become a lifesaving drug," said Dr. Prince. "Hundreds of scientists, physicians, nurses and other support personnel, and thousands of deeply dedicated parents have made extraordinary efforts for many years to make RespiGam happen. "The lives that will be saved," Dr. Hemming added, "become the legacy of all these people."

Dr. Hemming, interim dean of the USU School of Medicine, is a member of in the Montgomery Village Ward of the Seneca Maryland Stake.

Dr. Prince is vice president and director of research of Virion Systems Inc., a Maryland biotechnology corporation, and a member of in the Potomac North Ward of the Washington D.C. Stake.

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