Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Making it Transfusable

In honor of World Blood Day (June 14), Jewish Treats takes a brief look at the Jewish researchers who made safe blood transfusions possible.

In 1901, Karl Landsteiner (June 14, 1868 - June 26, 1943) discovered that people have different types of blood, and by 1909 he was able to begin labelling the different blood types. Born in Vienna, Landsteiner attended the University of Vienna, where, after several years of outside research, he became a professor. In 1919, Landsteiner moved to The Hague, from where he was recruited in 1922 by the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. Receiving the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for his work on blood types in 1930, Landsteiner was involved in important research in immunology, pathology and hematology. During his work at the Rockefeller Institute, he collaborated with two other well-known Jewish hematological researchers, Alexander Wiener and Philip Levine.

Alexander Solomon Wiener (March 16, 1907 - November 6, 1976), a life-long New Yorker, was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. At 15, he received a scholarship to Cornell University.  Afterward, while attending the Long Island College of Medicine, Wiener began doing research on blood groups at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital alongside Landsteiner. While working on creating a blood “fingerprint,” they discovered the RH +/- factor. They named this blood factor RH in honor of the Rhesus monkeys that they used as test subjects. It was Wiener who was responsible for recognizing the trouble that incompatible RH factors caused in blood transfusions; RH+ given to an RH- patient will cause the creation of dangerous antibodies. An interesting sidenote: Due to his research furthering the development of forensics and criminal identification, Wiener was made an honorary member of the Mystery Writers of America.

Philip Levine (August 10, 1900 - October 18, 1987) moved to New York from Kletsk, Russia, when he was 8 years old. He attended City College and Cornell University, after which he worked as Landsteiner’s assistant. From 1932 - 1935, Levine led a research team at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but returned east for a position at Newark Beth Israel. Based on the research findings on RH+/-, Levine hypothesized correctly that this was the cause of hemolytic disease of newborns. Together with Wiener, Levine created a transfusion procedure that saved the lives of an untold number of infants.

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