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Richard Lewisohn

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Richard Lewisohn
(July 12, 1875 - August 11, 1961)
Born in Germany
Year of Discovery: 1913

Blood Won't Clot?  It's the Best Thing Ever for Blood Banks

Richard Lewisohn, born in Germany in 1875, took full advantage of its rich educational tradition. He studied medicine at the University of Freiburg, one of the most prestigious medical schools in Europe. In 1906, seven years after obtaining his medical degree, he immigrated to New York. Here he began to work at Mount Sinai Hospital, concentrating on the digestive system (gastroenterology). But, it is Lewisohn's work with blood transfusions for which he is most famous. His work led to the storage of blood in blood banks, a discovery that is credited with saving over 1 billion lives.

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.

Lewisohn, like virtually all great scientists, built on the work of those who went before him. In1908, a French Surgeon, Alexis Carrel, prevented clotting during transfusions by sewing the veins and arteries of the donor and the recipient together. While this addressed the clotting difficulty, it certainly was not a practical solution. Then, in 1914, a Belgian physician, Albert Hustin, showed that sodium citrate could be used as an anticoagulant, allowing for a non-direct blood transfusion. Lewisohn provided the next crucial step in the process. Through experiments with transfusing dogs, he determined the maximum levels of sodium citrate that could be administered without being toxic. This allowed him to determine the exact concentration of sodium citrate that was both safe and effective for blood transfusions. This was the breakthrough the world needed. That same year, others showed that blood treated with Lewisohn's citrate method would keep for two days prior to transfusion. The following year, 1916, others pushed that timeframe to 14 days. Lewisohn's discovery of the ability to store blood outside the body prior to transfusions was remarkable, credited with saving over 1 billions lives thus far.



Introduction by Tim Anderson


Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Key Contributing Scientists
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

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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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Key Contributing Scientists to the Discovery

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science