July 12, 1875
August 11, 1961
In 1913, Richard Lewisohn, a surgeon at the Mount Sinai Hospital, introduced the modern technique of blood transfusion, developed from his discovery of a method of preventing coagulation of the blood outside the body. Dr. Howard Lilienthal, who performed the first transfusion on a human using Lewisohn's citrate method, wrote:
The ease and simplicity of this transfusion was most amazing to me, who had so often suffered more than the patient in performing this life-saving operation.
Lewisohn was educated in Germany and received his medical degree from the University of Freiburg in 1899, with a doctors thesis on "Malignant Tumors of the Kidney." In 1906, he immigrated to New York, and after obtaining his medical license, joined the staff of the Mount Sinai Hospital. He advanced from adjunct to associate attending surgeon and became attending surgeon in 1928; he reached retirement age in 1937, and became consulting surgeon in the same year.
Lewisohn's career at Mount Sinai included a long and productive association with A. A. Berg on the hospital's First Surgical Service. Together, in 1922, they performed the first subtotal gastrectomy for the treatment of ulcer in the United States. This hazardous procedure was only undertaken at Lewisohn's persuasion, after he had traveled to Austria, where the operation was first attempted, and had acquainted himself with both the technical aspects and results of this new approach. Drs. Berg and Lewisohn found the results of their work to be highly satisfactory and gradually, the surgical profession in the entire country became converted to this method of treatment of peptic ulcer resistant to medical therapy.
Upon his retirement from active surgical service, Lewisohn turned his energies to cancer research. His investigations were the first to establish the significance of folic acid in the biology of the cancer cell.
The high esteem in which Lewisohn was held resulted in the donation of a considerable sum of money for research to be conducted at his direction. When the money finally became available in 1954, Lewisohn felt that tissue research at the cellular and sub-cellular level might advance the science of medicine and he became the founder of the Cell Research Laboratory at the Mount Sinai Hospital. He continued to be a part of the research activities that were conducted, although he was then in his eighth decade.
However diversified his career, the discovery of the citrate method of blood transfusion remained Richard Lewisohn's crowning achievement. The possibility of storage of citrated blood greatly advanced its use in transfusion. At the beginning of World War II, it had become the exclusive method of blood transfusion used in surgery and medicine. In 1955, worldwide recognition of Lewisohn's work came when he received the Karl Landsteiner Award and Medal of the American Association of Blood Banks. In February 1959, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and in the fall of the same year, he became and Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
Photo: Courtesy of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.