Little Known Fact
Did you know that modern blood transfusions and blood banks were pioneered during the First World War?
Oswald Hope Robertson 1886-1966
Oswald Hope Robertson was a British born medical scientist who pioneered the use of blood banks during the First World War. He emigrated, aged eighteen months, with his parents to California where they settled in San Joaquin Valley. Roberston went on to study medicine at the University of California and also at Harvard but had to cut short his studies during WW1 when he was called to join a medical team. In 1917, whilst at the Western Front, he is credited with the invention of the first blood bank.
Due to the excessive need for blood replacement the British army began to use donated blood directly from one person to another but this was unpredictable and not without danger as even though blood grouping had been understood since the early part of the twentieth century, there were still problems with compatibility and blood coagulation.
Between 1914-1915 the use of sodium citrate as a blood coagulant was introduced which allowed the blood to be stored for several days and so the need for donor to recipient donation was no longer necessary. Citrated blood could now be stored, on ice, for up to 28 days. It was the arrival of the US physicians in 1917, amongst them, Robertson, who took the idea of blood preservation much further. Robertson was sent to the British Third Army Clearing Station to consult with the British on improving the blood donation service and plans were drawn up for the first official Blood Bank where Robertson used only those blood donors with blood group O as this is compatible with all other blood types.
This was a major advancement in the treatment of catastrophic blood loss and the lessons learned during wartime went on to provide advanced blood donation in the years following the war.