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Landsteiner's Reader's Guide

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A Reader’s Guide Through Landsteiner’s Scientific Journal Article

Uber Agglutinationserscheinungen Normalen Menschilchen Blutes
(On Agglutination Phenomena of Normal Human Blood)
Wiener klinische Wochenschrfit. 1901. Vol 14:1132-1134

Landsteiner first puts his experiment into the context of what was then known by science about his subject matter:
  • The first paragraph recounts the history of other scientists’ observations and thoughts about the phenomena
  • At the end of the first paragraph Landsteiner says he has new and different conclusions than others
  • The next four paragraphs also discuss other scientists’ experiments

Presenting the Evidence
Next Landsteiner discusses the results of his experiment, primarily by showing his tables. 
He mixed the serum of six different people in his laboratory with the red cells of each person (think carefully before taking a lab job - they may want your blood!)  His tables show the results. A plus means the mixed sample agglutinated or clumped.  A dash indicates it did not.
  • The hanging drop slide test is a microscopic examination to observe the clumping of blood (can you find out how it works on the internet?)
  • Test tube test results of agglutination are simply visible with the naked eye

Next Landsteiner sums up the results of his experiment”

“In addition, however, a remarkable regularity appeared in the behavior of the 22 blood specimens examined…, in most cases the sera could be divided into three groups.”

This is the announcement of the discovery of human blood groups! It is significant because when a blood transfusion is performed the donor’s blood is mixed with an individual’s own blood - and any clumping is a painful reaction that can be deadly. This happened so often before Landsteiner’s paper that blood transfusions were not performed. After his paper, blood could be tested before transfusions, and only blood types that do not clump were transfused. Landsteiner’s discovery of blood groups made transfusions safe and has saved more lives than any other medical discovery in history.

Additional Considerations
Then Landsteiner rules out various other explanations.  He also discusses what the discovery could mean and announces some additional conclusions:
  • Dried blood retains evidence of blood type (The beginnings of forensics – has Landsteiner’s name ever been mentioned on the shows as starting the science of CSI?)
  • Blood transfusions should be possible

There, you’ve done it!  You’ve worked your way through a scientific article published in 1901.  It was actually pretty clear, wasn’t it?  Now you’re ready to tackle some more.  If you find a subject you’re interested in, you can read a journal article about it without being intimidated.