DR. CHARLES R. DREW

DR. CHARLES R. DREW

1904-1950

Charles Drew, who revolutionized blood plasma research and developed the first blood banks, was bom in Washington, DC, where he grew up the oldest of five chil¬ dren. Graduating from M Street High School—now Paul Laurence Dunbar High School — with honors in 1922, Drew entered Amherst College, where he became an All-American football player.

Even as he developed as an athlete, he maintained that his real interest was in medicine. Following graduation, Drew took a teaching position with Morgan College. He focused on teach¬ ing biology, and leading the school’s bas¬ ketball and football teams to the champi¬ onships, until he was accepted at McGill University Medical School in Montreal, Canada.

Fascinated with the challenges of blood research — the difficulty of keeping blood fresh, and the problem of keeping all four blood types continually available — Drew began to experiment with plasma. He found that the blood’s cells could be extracted, leaving the liquid intact. This liq¬ uid, or plasma, could be used in transfu¬ sions for all blood types, and kept fresh for much longer than a week, which was the average for whole blood.

Drew’s research, beginning at McGill and continuing through the 1930s at Howard University, became the basis of the blood work that saved thousands of lives during World War II.

In 1938, Drew left Howard on leave, accepting a Rockefeller Foundation Grant to study at Columbia. As a resident in surgery at Columbia’s Presbyterian Hospi¬ tal, Drew took up his second field of inter¬ est, the preservation and storage of blood plasma. His excellent timing made it possi¬ ble for the ideas in his doctoral thesis, enti¬ tled “Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation,” to revolutionize treatment of not just civilians in need oftransfusions, but thousands of soldiers in the early 1940s.

Drew had returned to Howard in 1940, but left again when the British Red Cross invited him to treat British soldiers through the Blood Transfusion Association’s plas¬ ma processing program. In 1941, he returned to the US and became director of the Red Cross Blood Bank in New York City, where he worked to supply plasma to US soldiers.

In a famous conflict, the American Red Cross demanded that Drew not send “col¬ ored blood” to white troops overseas. If it was to be sent at all, it must be segregated. Confronting the medical ignorance of his associates, Drew announced: “Only exten¬ sive education, continued wise government, and an increasing fight on our part to dis¬ seminate the scientific facts and raise our levels of achievement can overcome this prejudice, which to a large extent is founded in ignorance.” Unable to change the direc¬ tive, Drew resigned from the blood program.

Drew continued to teach after the war. In 1950, he died in a car crash after falling asleep en route to a medical conference.