OneBlood is celebrating Women’s History Month this March by learning about two trailblazing women scientists who broke down barriers and shaped the field of blood science.
The work of these influential, pioneer women transformed how we study blood and what we know about blood, including the origin of red blood cells and their lifespan.
Dr. Winifred Ashby
Dr. Winifred Mayer Ashby (1879-1975) (Source: National Library of Medicine)
Discovering how long a red blood cell lives
During her fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in 1917, Dr. Winifred Mayer Ashby developed a study to discover the true lifespan of erythrocytes (red blood cells).
It was the commonly accepted belief at the time that red blood survival rate was only two to three weeks. Using a new technique that she created, Dr. Ashby was able to accurately measure the rate up to 110 days.
Although her discovery was contested for several years, it was finally accepted, and what is now known as the “Ashby technique”, is widely recognized as a major milestone in the study of red blood cells.
Improved blood preservation methods
The tests Dr. Ashby pioneered became vital for further understanding of anemia and hemolytic diseases. They were also especially groundbreaking in developing improved methods of blood preservation for transfusions during World War II, becoming the primary methods used for blood storage and transportation across long distances.
Dr. Florence Sabin
Investigating where blood cells come from
A woman of many firsts, Dr. Florence Rena Sabin built a trailblazing career as a research scientist. In the early 1900s, the origins of certain tissues were still not well understood. In her research, Dr. Sabin discovered that blood cells originate from and are generated in the endothelium (the tissue that lines veins) of blood vessels.
In the process, she also perfected supravital staining (a technique used to study living cells) and discovered the true origins of the lymphatic system.
Breaking the glass ceiling
Although her skills and research were reputable, Dr. Sabin still experienced resistance in a male-dominated field. To fund her research early in her career, she relied on funding support from a group of female researchers.
In 1903, she broke the glass ceiling and was finally admitted as the first woman on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Later in 1924, she did it again, becoming the first woman to serve as president of the American Association of Anatomists.
"I hope my studies may be an encouragement to other women, especially to young women, to devote their lives to the larger interests of the mind. It matters little whether men or women have the more brains; all we women need to do to exert our proper influence is just to use all the brains we have." —Dr. Florence Rena Sabin, accepting the Pictorial Review achievement award in 1929 (National Library of Medicine)
The amazing work of these influential women in science certainly helped lay the groundwork for our better understanding of blood. Thanks to them and so many others, your blood donation is able to safely help someone in need. Make your mark on history by giving blood and saving lives today!