Medical Trivia 1

Bronze bust of Karl Landsteiner, Nobel Laureate and discoverer of human blood groups.

Blood Work

Blood transfusions are a fairly commonplace medical procedure that has served the medical and continue to serve the needs of hundreds of millions of people worldwide, but it was not until 1900/1901, following the discovery of blood groups by the Austrian pathologist and 1930 Nobel Laureate in medicine, Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943), that the procedure became feasible in western medicine. The non-feasibility of blood transfusions was not as a result of a lack of trying. As early as the 15th century, European scientists had begun to experiment with blood transfusions, but the attempts almost always resulted in the death of the patients and by the late 1600s the Church, as well as governments in Italy, France and England had passed legislation that forbade the practice.

Syringe with blood.

The Incas did it first.

Yet, half a millennium earlier, the Incas of South America had been carrying out successful blood transfusions on a more or less regular basis. Why were the Incas successful? Well, it is thought that because most native South Americans share the same blood group, i.e. O Rhesus positive, the reactions that are due to the incompatibility of blood types as between donor and recipient would be comparatively uncommon, as compared with Europe where there was a much more diverse population insofar as blood groups went.

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