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Red Gold - The Epic Story of Blood Blood History: 1700 - 1919
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1700-1919: Discovery & Exploration

Transfusion at La Pitié Hospital, Paris.

In this era, scientific exploration, discovery, and experimentation changed the world more quickly and dramatically than ever before. The first human-to-human blood transfusions were performed, though the failure rate was high; this was not a suprising occurence, since blood groups had not yet been discovered. But that all changed in the years after Austrian Karl Landsteiner published his discovery of the three main human blood groups in 1901 -- four years before Albert Einstein published his Theory of Special Relativity. By the time of World War I, the value of blood typing had been grasped, and transfusion became an increasingly common and relatively simple medical procedure.
Timeline:
2500 BCE - 999 CE
1000-1699
1700-1919
1920-1949
1950-2002


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1771 In his book EXPERIMENTAL ENQUIRY INTO THE PROPERTIES OF THE BLOOD, British anatomist William Hewson details his research on blood coagulation, including his success at arresting clotting and isolating a substance from plasma he dubs "coagulable lymph." The substance is now more commonly known as fibrogen, a key protein in the clotting process.
1795 A footnote in a medical journal credits Philadelphia physician Philip Syng Physick with performing the first human-to-human blood transfusion, although his work is not published.
1818 On December 22, eminent British obstetrician and physiologist James Blundell performs the first recorded human-to-human blood transfusion. Using a syringe, he injects a patient suffering from internal bleeding with 12 to 14 ounces of blood from several donors. The patient dies after initially showing improvement.   Audio Clip
1874 Sir William Osler observes that small cell fragments from the bone marrow make up the bulk of clots formed in blood vessels; these cell fragments will come to be called platelets.
1901 Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner publishes a paper detailing his discovery of the three main human blood groups -- A, B, and C, which he later changes to O. He charts the regular pattern of reaction that occurs when he mingles the serum and red cells of an initial set of six blood specimens. Red cells agglutinate when serum from one group, he calls "A," is mixed with the red cells of a second group, "B." Similarly, group "B" serum causes the red cells of group "A" to agglutinate, but the red cells of a third group, "C," never clump when mixed with the serum of group "A" or "B." Based on these results, he deduces that two different types of antibodies exist to cause agglutination, "one in group A, another in group B, and both together in group C."
1902 Dr. Landsteiner's colleagues Alfred von Decastello and Adriano Sturli identify a fourth blood group -- AB -- that causes agglutination in the red cells of both groups "A" and "B."
1907 Dr. Ludvig Hektoen of Chicago recommends checking the blood of donors and recipients for signs of incompatibility (or cross matching) prior to transfusion.

At Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Dr. Reuben Ottenberg performs the first transfusion using cross matching, and over the next several years successfully uses the procedure in 128 cases, virtually eliminating transfusion reactions.
1914 Almost simultaneously, researchers Albert Hustin of Brussels and Luis Agote of Buenos Aires discover that adding sodium citrate to blood will prevent it from clotting. Dr. Hustin publishes his findings in April.
1915 Dr. Richard Lewisohn, at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, formulates the optimum concentration of sodium citrate that can be mixed with donor blood to prevent coagulation, but pose no danger to the recipient -- .2 percent.

Dr. Richard Weil determines that citrated blood can be refrigerated and stored for a few days and then successfully transfused.
1916 At the Rockefeller Institute in New York, Francis Peyton Rous and J.R. Turner develop a citrate-glucose solution that allows blood to be stored for a few weeks after collection and still remain viable for transfusion.
1917 While serving in the U.S. Army, Dr. Oswald Robertson, familiar with the work of Drs. Rous and Turner, collects and stores type O blood, with citrate-glucose solution, in advance of the arrival of casualties during the Battle of Cambrai in World War I. Thereby, he establishes the first blood depot.   Audio Clip

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Audio excerpts are from RED GOLD: THE EPIC STORY OF BLOOD and include narration as well as commentary from featured experts. (The free RealPlayer plug-in is required to listen to the clips.)

Photo: Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

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