The Fluid of Life
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photo: fLyd / Unsplash
Science

The Fluid of Life

A Medical History of Blood
Łukasz Kaniewski

Some Indigenous Australians would sprinkle young men’s blood on the elderly, believing it would delay the ageing process. Now, scientists from California want to pump young blood into old veins, expecting it to make them some money.

On 14th November 1666, the famous diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed an exciting show organized by the British Royal Society: what he saw was one of the first blood transfusions in history. The experiment was carried out on two dogs, connecting a mastiff’s artery with a spaniel’s vein. The mastiff died during the experiment – a necessary sacrifice on the altar of science – while the spaniel received a significant amount of the other dog’s blood, losing a lot of his own in the process. The procedure was deemed successful, and Mr. Pepys described the experiment as “pretty.” He also mentioned the experiment “did give occasion to many pretty wishes, as of the blood of a Quaker to be let into an Archbishop, and such like.”

In her book Blood Work, Holly Tucker adds another detail to the story: after a week, the spaniel was brought in front of the Royal Society Council. It was observed that the dog had grown; not as large as the mastiff had been, but it did put on weight.

Were the sage men expecting the procedure to turn a spaniel into mastiff, just like the audience believed the blood of a benevolent Quaker would change the ways of a stern archbishop? They surely didn’t rule it out. Robert Boyle, who was one of the top scientists of that time, wrote that experiments with blood transfusion were supposed to provide answers to substantial questions: Can the blood of a poor-spirited animal transform a fearless hound into a coward? Could young blood rejuvenate the elderly, and vice versa? Also, could blood transfusion change the dog’s breed?

French physician Jean-Baptiste Denys operated under similar premises, when a year later he administered a calf’s blood transfusion to a madman, Antoine Mauroy, hoping that the procedure would help the overactive patient to calm down. Malroy died after

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