History & Culture

History of blood transfusion | Discovery of 0, AB, Rh terms, the racism

When William Harvey discovered the fact that the blood was circulating in the body in a closed system, it led to the idea of blood transfusion. A few moments after, Oxford physician Richard Lower started working on the dog to dog and animal to animal blood transfusions. In the 16th and 17th centuries, blood, milk, and saltwater transplants were carried out in various countries to meet the patient’s blood needs, but these often caused terrifying situations.

Discovery of blood transfusion

Karl Landsteiner
Karl Landsteiner.

By the 20th century, when microbiological research was prevailing the scene, numerous scientific information was acquired about some infections, and more importantly, significant improvements were made about human cellular functions (white blood cells) and the responses of antibodies. The blood transfusion, and the revolutionary developments it brought with it, caused the 20th century to be called as “age of immunology“. The biggest development in this field happened in 1901.

Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner made a discovery while working with unsuccessful blood transfusion samples. He mixed small amounts of blood samples with the blood samples of different patients and the result was an agglutination (clustering) of red blood cells, but not always. However, the same agglutination was resulting in deaths and illnesses sometimes. Because this was a result of the inappropriate blood transfusions. Based on this experience, Landsteiner discovered that this was due to the presence or absence of two antigens called A and B that adheres to the outer layer of the cell membrane in the red blood cells.

Later, he mixed the blood samples he took from his physician friends, he separated these blood into either group A group and group B as compatible or clustered. He found a type of blood type that did not lead to clustering when mixed with both A and B groups. Understanding that no antigens adhere to the outer layer of the cell membrane in the red blood cells, Landsteiner called this blood type the 0 (zero) group (which later turned into the letter “O”). After a series of shuffling and observations, he discovered a new group called AB, where the cells carry both antigens.

Unfortunately, the rest of the details about blood transfusion could not be discovered easily and quickly. It would take another forty years to embrace the life-saving function of blood transfusion with the discovery of other antigens (Rh, M, N, P), the emergence of anticoagulant drugs and blood storage products that prevent blood clotting, the establishment of blood banks and, the beginning of World War II. As a result of the widespread use of blood transfusions, diseases such as viral hepatitis and later AIDS have emerged after the blood transplantation. This has been eliminated by scanning the donors’ blood with the help of radioimmune analysis and other methods.

Blood transfusion, and the race wars

The Nuremberg Laws
The Nuremberg Law for the Protection of Blood and German Honor.

Today, we understand that the word “value” has deviated from its meaning and degenerated to be turned into a political tool, especially in the recent past. Mainly, when we look at the examples mentioned above, we realize this degeneration better. Before the written history, even a single drop of blood was valued highly, it was reflecting our personality, determining our race, symbolizing living species. In 1935, German doctor Hans Serelman had a patient in need of an emergency blood transfusion. This happened at a time when blood banks (except the first blood bank established in Leningrad in 1932) were not yet established and blood transfusions were made directly from the donor’s vein to the recipient’s vein. Serelman gave the patient his own blood because there were no compatible donors. While he had to be praised for saving the patient’s life, he was sent to the concentration camp because he was a Jew, and the blood of the German race was contaminated.

In the years that followed, Germany began working on preventing eight thousand Jewish doctors from doing their job and reducing the Jewish “influence” in the field of medicine with many other applications. German immunology studies focused on finding the differences between pure Aryan blood and Jewish blood, which had no contribution to science. The Nuremberg Law for the Protection of Blood and German Honor imposed significant limitations on the blood to be removed from the donor during the blood transfusion, “in the case of donor carrying sufficient pure Aryan blood”, to create a pure Aryan breed.

American racism

blood transfusion and the American racism
The US started accepting the blood of black people after the Pearl Harbor attack.

If we look at the United States, we see similar racial practices. The army was divided into two, and the Red Cross refused to collect blood from the blacks. After the Pearl Harbor attack, the need for blood was so high that the institution began to accept the blood of black people. He labeled and processed the blood taken from them differently. In the late 1950s, the state of Arkansas enacted a law requiring the separation of black and white people’s blood, while the state of Louisiana enacted a law that criminalized this for physicians who gave “blood of the black” to white people without permission.

Today, how many deaths and suffering this widespread racial discrimination caused among the black and white people remains unknown. Some of the legislators that support these laws, policies, and practices are also the heads of the parties that govern us; It is they who decide who can get health care, the distribution of organs in the transplant, who has the right to abortion, stem cell research, who can access secret medical documents, who will have the human genome, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.