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The First Blood Transfusion

Experiments in transferring blood between animals occurred as early as the 1660s, back when people really had no idea of what was in blood, or how it differed between individuals. In 1667, a transfusion of blood into a human was proposed, but since the donor usually died in the animal experiments, it was decided to use the blood of a sheep.

But the choice of a human recipient was more difficult. The Royal Society needed someone who was clearly unwell in some way: then they could make the argument that transfusion might improve his health. They also sought an educated person who could report reliably on transfusion’s effects on his body. Ultimately, they settled on Arthur Coga, mentally unstable, but educated—he knew Latin, and had spent some time as a clergyman. Coga’s mental illness might be cured by transfusion; yet it tended to render him unfit to report on the bodily experience of the procedure. The experiment was troubled from the start.

The procedure was carried out, but appeared to be a failure because 1. Coga’s mental health did not improve, and 2. the public ridiculed the experiment. There was even a play written that mocked those early experiments. These factors set the research back greatly (as did a murder in France), but the fact remains that Coga survived the procedure, which is astonishing in light of what we’ve learned about blood since that time. Read the story of the first transfusion at JSTOR Daily. -via Digg


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