We all hope that we would never find ourselves in a position where we are in desperate need of blood. However, such things are often beyond our control. People can lose significant amounts of blood when they experience serious injuries or undergo major surgery. Some illnesses also limit the body’s ability to produce blood, like liver disease. Lack of blood is called anaemia. In such cases, one would need a transfusion of donated blood to restore one’s blood levels.
History of Blood Transfusions
The history of this procedure can be traced back to the 17th century, where scientists began to test transfusions between animals. The first transfusion between an animal, in this case a sheep, and a human was recorded in 1667. Some complications later caused this practise to be banned. In the early 19th century, scientists began experimenting with human-to-human blood transfusions. The success rate for these procedures was about 50/50.
It was not until 1901 that the Austrian physicist Karl Landsteiner found that blood variations exist in humans which caused some types of blood to be incompatible with others. This can sometimes cause fatal allergic reactions, infections, or lack of efficiency. This discovery explained the low success rate of previous transfusions.
Dr Landsteiner pioneered the ‘A B O’ and Rhesus blood group system and its compatibility between donors and the patient receiving blood. For his work, he won a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Since then, blood transfusions has become much safer. Today, it is among the most usual procedures carried out in hospitals worldwide.
Next Generation Blood
The combined challenges of meeting the medical demand for blood and the risk of blood-transmitted diseases have encouraged efforts towards developing artificial blood substitutes. Such experimentation is actually not new. Believe it or not, since the 15th century, people have tried using liquids like urine, milk, and wine as blood substitutes, with little success, of course!
We are a little closer to finding a viable substitute today. Sometimes, patients may only need the volume of liquid in their bloodstream to be restored. ‘Volume expanders’ that do not have oxygen-carrying properties have been successfully invented for this purpose and are commonly available around the world.
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