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The history of blood transfusions is both fascinating and surprising. It is fascinating, in that it reveals the genius of early medical pioneers struggling to bring new understanding to the saving of lives. It is surprising, in light of today's knowledge, in seeing just how odd many of their early beliefs seem now. An English physician, William Harvey, discovered the circulatory system in 1628. The first transfusions were attempted soon thereafter and, in 1665, another British physician showed he could keep dogs alive through blood transfusions from other dogs. Within two years, doctors in both France and England were transfusing the blood of lambs into humans - this was soon banned, delaying advances in blood transfusions for over 100 years. Blood transfusion remained a significant interest in the late 1700s and early 1800s, but progress was still tentative at best. Physicians in the United States, during the 1880s, transfused the milk of cows and goats into humans - a treatment that would also be banned due to the negative outcomes. Real breakthroughs came in the early 1900s as physicians began to match blood by types, based on Karl Landsteiner's work, and to experiment with storing it. The discovery of a means to store blood outside the body without it clotting (coagulating), was the key. Prior to this discovery, blood transfusions used the "direct" method, requiring the donor and the recipient to be side by side for the transfusion. The ability to store blood for later use was revolutionary, and led to the establishment of a worldwide system of blood banks.
Introduction by Tim Anderson
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pbs.org website biography of Lewisohn and the story of blood:
Annals of Surgery journal article by Lewisohn on blood transfusion:
Mount Sinai Hospital timeline of its surgical department, referencing Lewisohn:
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The Science Behind the Discovery
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