June 14, 1868|
Baden bei Wien, near Vienna, Austria-Hungary
|Died||June 26, 1943
New York City
|Institutions||Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, New York|
|Alma mater||University of Vienna|
|Known for||Development of blood group system, discovery of Rh factor, discovery of poliovirus|
|Notable awards||Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1930)|
Karl Landsteiner, ForMemRS (June 14, 1868 – June 26, 1943), was an Austrian biologist and physician. He is noted for having first distinguished the main blood groups in 1900, having developed the modern system of classification of blood groups from his identification of the presence of agglutinins in the blood, and having identified, with Alexander S. Wiener, the Rhesus factor, in 1937, thus enabling physicians to transfuse blood without endangering the patient′s life. With Constantin Levaditi and Erwin Popper, he discovered the polio virus, in 1909. In 1930 he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He was awarded a Lasker Award in 1946 posthumously and is recognised as the father of transfusion medicine.
Start of an academic career
Landsteiner’s father, Leopold (1818–1875), a renowned Viennese journalist, died at age 56, at that time Karl was only 6. This led to a close relationship between Landsteiner and his mother Fanny (née Hess; 1837–1908). Karl and his mother converted to Catholicism from Judaism when he was twenty one. He kept her death mask all his life in his bedroom. After graduating with the Matura exam from a Vienna secondary school he took up the study of medicine at the University of Vienna and wrote his doctoral thesis in 1891. While still a student he published an essay on the influence of diets on the composition of blood.
From 1891 to 1893 Landsteiner studied chemistry in Würzburg under Hermann Emil Fischer, in München under Eugen Bamberger and in Zürich under Arthur Rudolf Hantzsch. A number of publications from that period, some of them in co-operation with his professors, show that he did not restrict himself to hearing lectures.
Research work in Vienna – Discovery of the polio virus
After returning to Vienna he became an assistant to Max von Gruber at the Hygienic Institute. In his studies he concentrated on the mechanism of immunity and the nature of antibodies. From November 1897 to 1908 Landsteiner was an assistant at the pathological-anatomical institute of the University of Vienna under Anton Weichselbaum, where he published 75 papers, dealing with issues in serology, bacteriology, virology and pathological anatomy. In addition he did some 3,600 autopsies in those ten years. Weichselbaum was Landsteiner’s tutor for his postdoctoral lecture qualification in 1903. From 1908 to 1920 Landsteiner was prosector at the Wilhelminenspital in Vienna and in 1911 he was sworn in as an associate professor of pathological anatomy. During that time he discovered – in co-operation with Erwin Popper – the infectious character of Poliomyelitis and isolated the polio virus. In recognition of this groundbreaking discovery, which proved to be the basis for the fight against polio, he was posthumously inducted into the Polio Hall of Fame at Warm Springs, Georgia which was dedicated in January 1958.
Discovery of the blood groups
In 1900 Karl Landsteiner found out that the blood of two people under contact agglutinates, and in 1901 he found that this effect was due to contact of blood with blood serum. As a result he succeeded in identifying the three blood groups A, B and O, which he labelled C, of human blood. Landsteiner also found out that blood transfusion between persons with the same blood group did not lead to the destruction of blood cells, whereas this occurred between persons of different blood groups. Based on his findings, in 1907 the first successful blood transfusion was performed by Reuben Ottenberg at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Today it is well known that persons with blood group AB can accept donations of the other blood groups, and that persons with blood group O can donate to all other groups. Individuals with blood group AB are referred to as universal recipients and those with blood group O are known as universal donors. These donor-recipient relationships arise due to the fact that persons with AB do not form antibodies against either blood group A or B. Further, because type O blood possesses neither characteristic A nor B, the immune systems of persons with blood group AB do not refuse the donation. In today’s blood transfusions only concentrates of red blood cells without serum are transmitted, which is of great importance in surgical practice. In 1930 Landsteiner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of these achievements. For his pioneering work, he is recognised as the father of transfusion medicine.
Research work in Holland and the United States
After World War I, Vienna and the new republic of Austria as a whole was in a desolate economic state, a situation in which Landsteiner did not see any possibilities to carry on with his research work. He decided to move to Holland and accepted a post as prosector in the small Catholic Ziekenhuis hospital in The Hague and, in order to improve his financial situation also took a job in a small factory, producing old tuberculin (tuberculinum prestinum). He also published a number of papers, five of them being published in Dutch by the Royal Academy of Sciences. Yet working conditions proved to be not much better than in post-war Vienna. So Landsteiner accepted the inivitation that reached him from New York, initiated by Simon Flexner, who was familiar with Landsteiner's work, to work for the Rockefeller Institute. With his family he arrived there in the spring of 1923.. Throughout the 1920s Landsteiner worked on the problems of immunity and allergy. In 1927 he discovered new blood groups: M, N and P, refining the work he had begun 20 years before. Soon after Landsteiner and his collaborator, Philip Levine, published the work and, in 1927, the types began to be used in paternity suits.
Landsteiner was serving at a war hospital in 1916 when, at the age of 48, he married Leopoldine Helene Wlasto. Their only child, a son, was born the following year and was christened Ernst Karl on April 8, 1917. He was to become a surgeon in Providence, Rhode Island.
In 1929 Landsteiner became a United States citizen.
- Rous, P. (1947). "Karl Landsteiner. 1868-1943". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 5 (15): 294–226. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1947.0002.
- Dreiser, Karl Landsteiner, p. 24
- Speiser, Karl Landsteiner, p. 33
- Landsteiner, K.; Popper, E. (1909). "Übertragung der Poliomyelitis acuta auf Affen". Zeitschrift für Immunitätsforschung und experimentelle Therapie 2: 377–390.
- Landsteiner, Karl (1900). "Zur Kenntnis der antifermentativen, lytischen und agglutinierenden Wirkungen des Blutserums und der Lymphe". Centralblatt f. Bakteriologie, Parasitenkunde u. Infektionskrankheiten 27: 357–362.
- "Homage to scientist on Blood Donor’s Day". The Tribune. June 15, 2006. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- Speiser, Karl Landsteiner p. 63
- Speiser, Paul (1990). Karl Landsteiner: Entdecker der Blutgruppen und Pionier der Immunologie (3rd ed.). Berlin. ISBN 3-89412-084-3.
- Karl Landsteiner at Biography.com
- Biography at the Nobel e-Museum
- 1946 Lasker award for clinical medicine
- Key Participants: Karl Landsteiner — It's in the Blood! A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin, and Sickle Cell Anemia
- National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir