What is the history of blood transfusion?

Updated: Apr 16, 2019
  • Author: Linda L Maerz, MD, FACS, FCCM; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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The history of blood transfusion originated with William Harvey’s discovery of blood circulation in 1628. The earliest known blood transfusions occurred in 1665, and the first human blood transfusion was performed by Dr. Philip Syng Physick in 1795. The first transfusion of human blood for the treatment of hemorrhage was performed by Dr. James Blundell in London in 1818. The first blood bank was established in Leningrad in 1932, and the first blood bank in the United States opened at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital in 1937.

Technology making the transfusion of allogeneic blood products feasible includes Karl Landsteiner’s landmark identification of the human blood groups A, B, and O in 1901. Decastello and Sturli added the fourth group, AB, in 1902. Reuben Ottenberg used blood typing and cross-matching for the first time shortly thereafter; he also coined the terms universal donor and universal recipient in 1912. Subsequently, the development of long-term anticoagulants, such as acid-citrate-dextrose, allowed preservation of blood for later use. In 1939-1940, the Rhesus (Rh) blood group system was discovered, leading to the development of minor antigen compatibility testing. In 1971, hepatitis B surface antigen testing heralded the advent of screening to minimize infection transmission complicating allogeneic transfusion.

Fresh whole blood has long been thought of as the criterion standard for transfusion, but the advent of whole blood fractionation techniques subsequent to World War II provided a means of more efficient use of the various components (i.e., packed red blood cells [PRBCs], fresh frozen plasma [FFP], individual factor concentrates, platelet concentrates, cryoprecipitate). As a result, current indications for the use of whole blood are generally few.  The most widespread use of whole blood transfusion is the US military buddy transfusion system. [2]  Additionally, whole blood transfusion in civilian pre-hospital settings and in the trauma bay is seeing a resurgence in some regions.

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