Richard Lewisohn
(July 12, 1875 - August 11, 1961)
Born in Hamburg, Germany
Year of Discovery: 1913

Discovered How to Store Blood, Leading to Widespread Blood Transfusions

Richard Lewisohn, born in Germany in 1875, took full advantage of its rich educational tradition. He studied medicine at the University of Freiburg, one of the most prestigious medical schools in Europe. In 1906, seven years after obtaining his medical degree, he immigrated to New York. Here he began to work at Mount Sinai Hospital, concentrating on the digestive system (gastroenterology). But, it is Lewisohn's work with blood transfusions for which he is most famous. His work led to the storage of blood in blood banks, a discovery that is credited with saving over 1 billion lives.

The history of blood transfusions was both frustrating and tragic. An English physician, William Harvey, discovered the circulatory system in 1628. Physicians quickly realized how many lives blood transfusions could save, for they continually saw their patients die from wounds and women die during childbirth from hemorrhaging. They attempted blood transfusion experiments on dogs with some success, but also some failure. They experimented trying various animal blood transfusions into humans, such as lamb blood and cattle blood. Not very successful and often tragic. They attempted transfusing human blood as well, but one in three of these attempts ended in the patient’s death.

It was over two hundred years before the breakthrough came when in 1901 Karl Landsteiner discovered that blood consisted of different types. Some types were compatible and could be transfused, leading to healing, but other types coagulated when mixed and would kill you.

Yet Landsteiner’s discovery did not change medicine overnight. When blood was removed to transfuse into another person, it quickly clotted, making it unusable. So, doctors tried the direct method of transfusion – sewing the veins and arteries of the donor and the recipient together. But this was hardly practical. Not only did you have to have a donor with the correct type on hand, but the physician didn’t know how much blood was being pumped into the patient.

Then, in 1914, a Belgian physician, Albert Hustin, showed that sodium citrate could be used as an anticoagulant in diluted blood. Richard Lewisohn jumped upon this insight and set up detailed experiments using sodium citrate and dog blood. Through experiments transfusing dogs, he determined the exact concentration of sodium citrate that was both safe and effective for blood transfusions. Lewisohn's citrate method at first would keep blood good for two days prior to transfusion. But more study increased that timeframe up to 14 days. This was the practical breakthrough the world needed – blood could now be stored.

His discovery coincided with World War I, and stored blood for transfusions was quickly seized upon as a method to save the lives of wounded soldiers. After the war, more and more uses were found for transfusions. By the 1930s Blood Banks became common in cities worldwide, making blood transfusions the most important lifesaving medical advance in history.

Written by science writer, Tim Anderson

Lives Saved: Over 1,100,000,000


  1. About one in seven people entering a hospital need blood.
  2. Three pints: the average whole blood and red blood cell transfusion
  3. One pint of blood can save up to three lives
  4. Healthy adults who are at least 17 years old, and at least 110 pounds may donate about a pint of blood
  5. Thirteen tests (11 for infectious diseases) are performed on each unit of donated blood
  6. If you begin at age 17 and donate every 2 months until you reach 80 years old you will donate 46 gallons
  7.  A newborn baby has about one cup of blood in their body

Links to More About the Scientist & the Science
Richard Lewisohn's Wikipedia Page
Richard Lewisohn's journal article in the 1916 Annals of Surgery
The Importance of the Proper Dosage of Sodium Citrate in Blood Transfusion