The first research into blood transfusion dates back to the 17th Century when British physician William Harvey fully described the circulation and properties of blood in 1628. The first blood transfusions were also attempted around this time, although these were often unsuccessful and proved fatal in humans.
The first successful blood transfusion recorded was performed by British physician Richard Lower in 1665 when he bled a dog almost to death and then revived the animal by transfusing blood from another dog via a tied artery.
In 1667, Jean-Baptiste Denis who was physician to King Louis XIV, performed the transfusion of blood from an animal to a human. Denis transfused the blood from a sheep to a 15-year old boy and later to a labourer, both of whom survived the transfusions.
In 1818, British obstetrician James Blundell successfully transfused human blood to a patient who had hemorrhaged during childbirth. In 1901, Karl Landsteiner, an Austrian physician discovered the first human blood groups, which helped transfusion to become a safer practice. By performing experiments in which he mixed blood samples taken from his staff, Landsteiner discovered blood groups A, B and O and established the basic principals of ABO compatibility. In 1907, an American surgeon called Reuben Ottenberg suggested that patient and donor blood should be grouped and cross matched before a blood transfusion procedure.
Between 1914 and 1918, anticoagulants such as sodium citrate were found to prolong the shelf life of blood and refrigeration also proved to be an effective means of preserving blood. In the 1920’s and 30’s, the voluntary donation of blood for storage and use was started. At around the same time, Edwin Cohn developed cold ethanol fractionation, a method of breaking down blood into its component parts to obtain albumin, gamma globulin and fibrinogen, for example.
During the Second World War, blood transfusion was used on a large scale to treat injured soldiers and became well known as a life saving procedure.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc