Karl Landsteiner

29.03.2015 |

Episode #8 of the course “Unknown Scientists Who Changed The World”

Austrian biologist and physician Karl Landsteiner is known as the father of transfusion medicine. In 1900, he became the first person to distinguish the main blood groups of A, B, AB, and O. In his lifetime, he received the Aronson Prize (1926) and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1930). He also received the Lasker Award posthumously in 1946.

Born in 1868 in Baden bei Wien, Austria-Hungary, near Vienna, Landsteiner studied medicine at the University of Vienna and wrote his doctoral thesis in 1891. His father was a famous journalist in Vienna but died when Karl was only 6. After graduating, Landsteiner studied chemistry in Würzburg, Munich, and Zürich, producing a number of publications. He also spent a brief amount of time working at the Rockefeller Institute in the United States before returning to Vienna, where his major discoveries took place. Landsteiner died in 1943.

Landsteiner’s discovery of human blood types started when he noticed the blood of two people clumping together. He realized that this effect was due to contact of blood with blood serum. Landsteiner also found out that blood transfusion between people with the same blood group did not lead to the destruction of blood cells, an occurrence between people of different blood groups. The first successful blood transfusion was performed at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York in 1907 based on Landsteiner’s findings. Landsteiner also identified, along with Alexander S. Wiener, the Rhesus factor (or Rh factor) in 1937. This enabled physicians to transfuse blood without endangering a patient’s life.

In addition to his blood work, Landsteiner also left a lasting legacy with his discovery of the poliovirus in 1909.


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