Blood Banking made possible by Dr. Charles Drew

OneBlood February 11, 2019

In the United States, the expectation is that hospitals have blood available to save lives whenever needed. But that hasn’t always been the case. Blood banking was made possible by Dr. Charles Drew.

Dr. Drew was the first African-American to receive a Doctor of Medical Science degree from Columbia University and worked tirelessly in the area of blood transfusions and preservation for several years.

Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Dr. Charles Drew / Prof. of Medicine & Inventor of Blood Bank [in Laboratory, Howard University] [10 Paper Photoprints,] 1942.” Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 31 Oct. 2015. learninglab.si.edu/q/r/52840. Accessed 8 Feb. 2019.

It was in 1933, during his internship and residency at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General hospital with Dr. John Beattie, that Dr. Charles Drew first examined problems and issues regarding blood transfusions.

A few years later in 1938, he received a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Columbia University and train at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. He continued his blood-related studies and developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma by separating it into components.

Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Doctor Charles Drew's Blood Bank Group [Cellulose Acetate Photonegative].” Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 31 Oct. 2015. learninglab.si.edu/q/r/52887. Accessed 8 Feb. 2019.

By separating the components, blood could safely be frozen and stored for later use. Prior to this, blood transfusions needed to be given to the patient directly from the donor when in the hospital.

While most donations today are used within a few days, blood centers still separate blood donations into components. Modern medicine has discovered that certain injuries and illness can be treated best using specific blood components, such as platelets, plasma or red blood cells.

Because of this, your individual blood donation could save up to three lives.

Most of us think of red blood cells when we think of donations; red blood cells are critical for trauma victims and surgery patients, but platelets are important for those undergoing cancer treatment or with weak immune systems. And plasma has clotting power so it is often used to treat burn and trauma victims.

Many of us don’t realize that our blood type gives certain components of our blood power. An O- donor is the universal donor for red blood cells, but an AB donor is the universal donor for plasma. By targeting your type, you can maximize the power of your blood.

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