The Man Who Enabled Blood Transfusions

Tomorrow is the birthday of Dr. Charles Drew, who was born June 3, 1904.  Drew is credited with discovering methods for preserving blood and enabling blood transfusions.

At the time, transfusions were all but impossible because there was no way to store blood.  Within days after leaving the body, blood begins to clot, the white blood cells deteriorate and the electrolytes change.

As a medical student, Drew discovered that he could preserve blood by separating the plasma (the liquid part) from the rest and refrigerating the two parts separately.  He further discovered that – unlike differing blood types – all people have the same plasma type and can be universal donors.

During World War II, Drew helped establish the first large-scale national blood bank for the U.S. military.  He pioneered numerous best practices, including absolute sterility, centralized donation centers, mobile bloodmobiles, testing for contamination and handling only by skilled personnel.

However, the military excluded African-Americans from donating blood.  As an African American, Drew was not allowed to participate in his own program.  The military later changed its policy, but still demanded the segregation of African-American blood for no scientific reason.  Drew vigorously objected and resigned his post.

Drew died in 1950 when he fell asleep while driving and crashed his automobile.  He was only 45 years old.  Contrary to popular myth, he was not refused a blood transfusion because of his race.  In fact, a transfusion may even have hastened his death, as massive chest injuries had completely blocked blood flow to his heart.

Today, more than 108 million units of donated blood are collected every year by 10,000 blood banks in 168 countries around the world.  Agilent solutions are used to study and analyze blood plasma.  Agilent has developed a highly sensitive method for identifying metabolites in plasma using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.  Researchers in Scandinavia have also used Agilent liquid chromatography and mass spec to examine how different collection and storage methods can affect the metabolic concentrations of blood plasma and serum.

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