Charles Richard Drew (19041950)
Charles Richard Drew became famous for using blood plasma instead of whole blood in blood transfusions. Blood has two main ingredients, red blood cells and plasma. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all the parts of your body. The plasma is mostly water with proteins and other things in it. People who have been hurt in accidents often lose lots of blood, which is very dangerous. A blood transfusion can save a person’s life. But whole blood can spoil after about six weeks, creating a constant need for new donors. Charles Drew helped extend the shelf-life of blood by developing ways to separate plasma from red blood cells. The separated blood plasma can be stored for a lot longer than whole blood, and Drew discovered that in some emergencies, giving patients plasma worked better than giving whole blood. This meant that hospitals and blood banks didn’t need to collect as much blood, since longer-lasting plasma could be used in many cases.
Drew was a native of Washington, D.C. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Amherst College in Massachusetts and then a medical degree at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. In addition to his work in blood plasma, he helped found the American Red Cross blood bank, and in 1940 he organized the shipment of donated blood from the United States to Europe to treat British soldiers wounded in combat in World War II. He died in a car accident in 1950 at the young age of 46.