One Foot In The Past

Forgotten transfusion history: John Leacock of Barbados

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7378.1485 (Published 21 December 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1485
  1. P J Schmidt, head of transfusion medicine (pauljschmidt@hotmail.com)a,
  2. A G Leacock, retired surgeonb
  1. a Transfusion Medicine Academic Center, Florida Blood Services, St Petersburg, FL 33742, USA,
  2. b Sharon Hill House, Barbados
  1. Correspondence to: P J Schmidt, 913 Mooring Circle, Tampa, FL 33602, USA

    A sugar planter's son from Barbados who graduated at Edinburgh was one of the first people to experiment with transfusing blood, in the early 19th century, nearly 100 years before the discovery of blood groups made transfusion routinely practicable

    James Blundell of London is credited with introducing blood transfusion into the practice of medicine. It was his extensive research in animals and his well disseminated writings that established transfusion as a treatment in the first quarter of the 19th century.1 Blundell acknowledged two colleagues as the inspiration for his work, both from the island of Barbados: Leacock and Goodridge, of whom the more important was John Henry Leacock.

    The concept of transfusion therapy had been set aside for 150 years after the failures of transfusion of animal blood into humans by Denys in Paris and Lower in London in the 17th century. Sporadic, haphazard trials with animal blood, including one by Blundell's uncle, a Dr Haighton,1 were known, but it remained for Leacock to do the first set of planned experiments in 1816 that established the need for species compatibility. Blundell reopened the subject a year later, and after that trials of human blood transfusion were made throughout the world.2 Many were successful, despite the fact that it was not until almost 100 years later that discovery of the blood groups made it possible to predict compatibility of donor and recipient.

    Summary points

    Early attempts to transfuse humans with animal blood were made in the 17th century and sporadically thereafter up to the 19th century

    In 1816 John Henry Leacock, from Barbados, reported systematic experiments in Edinburgh on dogs and cats that established that donor and recipient must be of the same species, and recommended inter-human transfusion; he then returned to Barbados and published nothing more

    James Blundell, who …

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