Karl Landsteiner

It is to Karl Landsteiner that we owe the discovery of blood groups and our ability to safely administer the blood of another person to a patient.

Biography

Karl Landsteiner was born the son of a journalist on June 14, 1868; in Baden near Vienna, Austria. Landsteiner studied Medicine at the University of Vienna, where he finished his doctoral degree in 1891. After his studies, he embarked on a number of research stays, which took him to Zurich and Munich, and also to Würzburg.

In 1896, Landsteiner returns to Vienna, taking on a position as an assistant at the Hygienical Institute, where he conducts research on the functions of the immune system. From 1898 to 1908, Landsteiner works as an assistant at the Department of Pathological Anatomy, where in 1900 he makes the discovery that the blood of two people will frequently clump when mixed. Over the years, he expands his findings into the ABO system. After his time at the University, he becomes Director of the Wilhelmine Hospital in Vienna, where he stays up to 1919.

Then Landsteiner moves on to The Hague, Netherlands, to a small hospital, until he accepts a position at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, discovering the rhesus factor together with Alexander Solomon Werner.

In 1900, Karl Landsteiner is awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery of blood types.

On June 26, 1943, Landsteiner dies from the aftereffects of a cardiac infarction that he suffered while working at the Institute.

Research/Nobel Prize

After his student years, Viennese MD Karl Landsteiner supplements his knowledge of Chemistry in Zurich, Würzburg, and Munich. Working with blood samples, he perceives something that others have not noticed before. When mixed, the blood of two people shows agglutination, it will clump. By precisely examining his own blood and that of his co-workers, he recognizes compatibilities and incompatibilities, eventually defining individual blood groups. Only after this discovery was the safe transfusion of blood made possible.

Working and Living in Würzburg

Landsteiner came to Würzburg in the summer semester of 1892, to attend the Chemistry lectures of Emil Fischer, another future Nobel Laureate. Yet Landsteiner was more than just a passive listener. Soon he collaborated with Fischer on various research projects, which also led to a joint publication on glycolaldehyde.

Landsteiner lived opposite Bürgerspital, at Eichhorngasse 32, today's Eichhornstrasse, where a memorial plaque still commemorates his sojourn in Würzburg.