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Papers of Blood Bank Pioneer, Surgeon and Educator Dr. Charles Drew Added to the National Library of Medicine’s Profiles in Science Web Site

The National Library of Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, announces the release of an extensive selection from the papers of African-American surgeon Charles R. Drew (1904-1950), who organized and directed America's first large-scale blood bank during the early years of World War II, on the Library's Profiles in Science® Web site (http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov).

With this addition, the number of prominent researchers, public health officials and promoters of medical research whose personal and professional records are presented on Profiles has grown to 31.

"Dr. Drew's blood bank work resolved numerous problems in transfusion medicine in that era, helping to make blood supplies readily available for wartime use. But he was also a surgeon who transformed surgical education at Howard, and forged a tradition of excellence," said Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, director of the National Library of Medicine.

Dr. Charles Drew was born and raised in Washington, DC, where he attended the best of the city's African-American schools. Although he was only an average student, his outstanding athletic performance at Dunbar High School earned him a scholarship to Amherst College, where he became a football and track legend. He received his AB in 1926 and, inspired to pursue a medical career, worked two years as an athletic director and biology instructor at Baltimore's Morgan College to earn money for medical school. At the McGill University College of Medicine in Montréal, Canada, he became a star student and, once again, a star athlete, winning Canadian championships in several sports. He received his MD and CM (Master of Surgery) in 1933, graduating third in a class of 137. During his internship and residency at Montréal General Hospital, he explored blood transfusion and other fluid replacement treatments for shock.

Several years after joining the surgical faculty at the historically black Howard University College of Medicine in Washington in 1935, Drew received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to train with eminent surgeon Allen O. Whipple at New York's Presbyterian Hospital. He also took this opportunity to earn a doctorate in medical science from Columbia University. At Presbyterian, he worked with Dr. John Scudder on studies relating to treating shock, fluid balance, blood chemistry and preservation, and transfusion. His dissertation project was establishing an experimental blood bank at Presbyterian, which opened in August 1939. In June 1940, Drew received his doctorate in Science in Medicine from Columbia, becoming the first African American to earn the degree there.

"Blood for Britain," a plasma collection project initiated early in 1940 by New York hospitals and the Red Cross to aid England during World War II, quickly established Drew as a blood bank pioneer. Although others had developed the basic methods for plasma use, Drew played a key role in planning the project and, as medical director, instituted uniform procedures and standards for collecting blood and processing plasma at the participating hospitals. In January 1941, Drew became the assistant director of a pilot program for a national blood banking system, jointly sponsored by the National Research Council and the American Red Cross. The success of the subsequent nationwide project was tarnished by the Armed Forces' initial exclusion of African-American donors, and later their segregation of blood donations. Throughout the war, Drew criticized these policies as unscientific and insulting to African-American citizens.

Drew returned to Howard University in April 1941 and soon became chair of the Department of Surgery and Chief of Surgery at Freedmen's Hospital. For the next nine years he devoted himself to training young African-American surgeons who would meet or exceed the most rigorous specialty standards, and would, in turn, continue the tradition of excellence at Howard and beyond.

Drew died on April 1, 1950, in Burlington, North Carolina, from injuries sustained in a car accident while en route to a conference. Despite the prompt and competent care he received from the physicians at a nearby hospital, he was too badly injured to survive. Drew's tragic death generated a persistent myth that he died because he was denied admission to a "whites-only" hospital. His colleagues, including those present at the time, and his family have said that this was untrue. The white doctors tried, but failed, to save Drew's life.

Profiles in Science features digitized correspondence, published articles, notebook excerpts, drafts of reports, and photographs from the Charles R. Drew Papers at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. Visitors to the site can view, for example, Drew's letters to his family and professional colleagues, drafts of blood banking protocols, and correspondence protesting the military's policy of segregating blood donations. The site also includes Drew's never-published 1940 doctoral dissertation, "Banked Blood," and numerous photographs documenting his life and career. Of particular note, Drew's letters to his wife reveal the stresses of carving out a career in segregated American medicine, while also trying to fulfill the roles of husband and father.

 Dr. Charles Drew.

Image: Dr. Charles Drew, around 1949, courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.

Located in Bethesda, Maryland, the National Library of Medicine is the world's largest library of the health sciences. For more information, visit the Web site at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/.

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