History of Blood Transfusions

History of Blood Transfusions

A majority of donated blood is used for direct blood transfusions. In these procedures, blood is pumped into a patient's veins via an intravenous (IV) line to boost low blood levels caused by surgery, injury, or disease. According to the standards of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), blood transfusions are one of the core functions essential to quality medical care.

Beyond blood transfusions, donated blood also can be used to help trauma or burn victims; to provide necessary proteins for the treatment of serious burns; and to help patients with blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia or hemophilia.

  The 1600 - 1700's



British physician William Harvey discovers the circulation of blood. The first known blood transfusion is attempted soon afterward.






Microscopist Jan Swammerdam observes and describes red blood cells.



The first recorded successful blood transfusion occurs in England: Physician Richard Lower keeps dog alive by transfusing blood from other dogs.



Jean-Baptiste Denis in France and Richard Lower and Edmund King in England separately report successful transfusions from sheep to humans.


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    The 1800's



British obstetrician James Blundell performs the first successful transfusion of human blood to a patient for the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage.



U.S. physicians attempt transfusing milk from cows, goats and humans.



Saline infusion replaces milk as a “blood substitute” due to the increased frequency of adverse reactions to milk.

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  The 1900's



Karl Landsteiner, an Austrian physician, discovers the first three human blood groups.






Dr Charles Drew

Red Cross ends its World War II blood program













  • Ludvig Hektoen suggests that the safety of transfusion might be improved by cross-matching blood between donors and patients to exclude incompatible mixtures.
  • Reuben Ottenberg performs the first blood transfusion using blood typing and cross-matching.


Long-term anticoagulants, among them sodium citrate, are developed, allowing longer pre servation of blood.



The Rh blood group system is discovered by Karl Landsteiner, Alexander Wiener, Philip Levine and R.E. Stetson.



  • The U.S. government establishes a national blood collection program.
  • Edwin Cohn develops cold ethanol fractionation, the process of breaking down plasma into components and products. Albumin, gamma globulin and fibrinogen are isolated and become available for clinical use.
  • John Elliott develops the first blood container, a vacuum bottle extensively used by the Red Cross.
  • Early blood processing program for relief of English war victims, called Plasma for Britain, begins under direction of Charles R. Drew, MD.


  • The Red Cross begins National Blood Donor Service to collect blood for the U.S. military with Dr. Charles R. Drew, formerly of the Plasma for Britain program, as medical director.
  • Soldiers injured during the Pearl Harbor attack are treated with albumin for shock.


Dried plasma becomes a vital element in the treatment of wounded soldiers during World War II.



  • The Red Cross ends its World War II blood program for the military after collecting more than 13 million pints.
  • Coombs, Mourant and Race describe the use of anti-human globulin to identify incomplete antibodies. The process became known as the Coombs test, also known as the antiglobulin test.


ABO blood-typing and syphilis testing is performed on each unit of blood.



The Red Cross begins the first nationwide blood program for civilians by opening its first collection center in Rochester, N.Y.



The U.S. blood system is comprised of 1,500 hospital blood banks, 46 community blood centers, and 31 American Red Cross regional blood centers.



  • Audrey Smith reports the use of glycerol cryoprotectant for red blood cells.
  • The U.S. enters Korean War. - Red Cross becomes blood collection agency for military during Korean War.


Establishment of national blood clearinghouse.



The American Association of Blood Banks forms its committee on Inspection and Accreditation to monitor the implementation of standards for blood banking.



Platelet concentrates are recognized for reducing the mortality from hemorrhage in cancer patients.



Plasmapheresis is introduced as a means of collecting plasma for fractionation.



American National Red Cross Board of Governors receives report that national headquarters will host a national Rare Blood Donor Registry for blood types occurring less than once in 200 people.



S. Murphy and F. Gardner demonstrate the feasibility of storing platelets at room temperature, revolutionizing platelet transfusion therapy.



U.S. blood banks move toward an all-volunteer blood donor system.



Hepatitis B surface antigen (HbsAg) testing of donated blood begins.



  • The Red Cross calls for national blood policy, which the federal government sets up in 1974, supporting standardized practices and an end to paid donations.
  • Apheresis is used to extract one cellular component, returning the rest of the blood to the donor.
  • Food & Drug Administration (FDA) begins to regulate all 7,000 U.S. blood and plasma centers.


FDA requires blood bags to be labeled “paid” or “volunteer”.



  • Additive solutions extend shelf life of red blood cells to 42 days.
  • The U.S. blood banking groups issue their first warning about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).


Immediately after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licenses the first test to detect the antibody to HIV on March 3rd, Red Cross Blood Services regions begin testing all newly donated blood.



The Red Cross opens its Holland Laboratory dedicated to biomedical research.



  • Testing of donor blood for HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies (anti-HIV-1 and anti-HIV-2) is implemented.
  • First National Testing Laboratory, applying standardized tests to ensure safety of Red Cross blood products, opens in Dedham, Mass. Today, the Red Cross performs a dozen tests on each of more than 6 million blood donations a year in five state-of-the-art standardized national testing laboratories (NTLs).
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    2000 to present



Nucleic acid amplification test (NAT) for HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) licensed by the Food and Drug Administration.

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