How It Works

Invention of the blood bank

Charles Drew 1904-1950


Often referred to as the father of modern-day blood banks, Charles Drew’s medical achievemen­ts not only advanced our understand­ing of the blood that flows through our veins, but his medical insights came at a time when the demand for replacemen­t blood was at an all-time high. Climbing the academic ranks after graduating from the Mcgill University of Medicine in Montreal in 1933, Drew became the chief surgical resident at Freedman’s Hospital before studying at Columbia University where he won a fellowship to train at the Presbyteri­an Hospital in New York City. Completing his doctoral degree, Drew was assigned to work under John Scudder, who had been granted funds to work on the first-ever blood bank, but ultimately it would be Drew that designed a technique to make this a reality. Having studied blood chemistry, fluid replacemen­t, transfusio­n and storage, Drew became a leading expert on all things blood, an attribute especially valued during the carnage of World War II. As Great Britain battled against Nazi Germany the casualties of soldiers on the frontline mounted, and so did the need for blood for transfusio­ns. As an Allied nation the US formed the Blood for Britain Project with an aim to identify a way to successful­ly ship blood overseas. Drew was appointed head of the project, and alongside Scudder the pair devised a way to separate plasma from blood to be transfused upon arrival in Britain. Untreated blood needs to be refrigerat­ed to remain viable, however, and the electrolyt­e carrying plasma within did not. By splitting the plasma from the blood and mixing it in a saline solution, it could be shipped abroad without refrigerat­ion and remain viable for transfusio­ns. Plasma could also be used regardless of the blood type of the patient that would be receiving it. By 1941 the Blood for Britain project had collected 14,556 blood donations, shipping over 5,000 litres of plasma to England.

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