Charles Drew (June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950) was an American surgeon and medical researcher. He researched in the field of blood transfusions, developing improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of lives of the Allied forces. As the most prominent African American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation, and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950.
Charles Drew (June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950) was the first child born to a poor family on 3 June 1904 in Washington, DC, USA. As a young boy, he contributed to his family’s income by delivering newspapers in the neighbourhood. He showed an early ability to coordinate and manage, organising his paper route with those of ten childhood friends into a network that delivered 2,000 newspapers daily.
Drew landed a partial athletic scholarship at Amherst College, Massachusetts, in 1922. In 1926, he was one of the 16 African Americans to graduate college in the 1920s. His next educational goal was to go to medical school. Drew was eligible to apply to only two US schools. One was Howard University with its associated Freedmen’s Hospital, which was created to serve freed slaves during the American Civil War, and the other was Harvard Medical School. Howard did not accept Drew because he lacked the required number of humanities course credits. Harvard said yes, but placed him on the waiting list for the following year. Impatient to begin his medical studies, Drew declined the Harvard offer and instead applied to McGill University in Montreal, Canada where he was accepted immediately.
There were no refined methods for the separation of blood components, so only whole blood, which has a shelf life of one week, could be used. Hospitals struggled to maintain a ready supply of blood for their patients, but due to its rapid expiration, blood of the appropriate type was frequently unavailable.
In 1938, Drew was accepted as a Rockefeller Fellow at Columbia University’s renowned Presbyterian Hospital, New York, to study the storage and distribution of blood. There, he further investigated the lifespan of stored blood under various conditions and, as manager of the hospital’s blood supply, turned his attention to the separation of blood components. In 1939, he developed novel methods of separating plasma from erythrocytes and dramatically increased the shelf life of plasma to two months. Although plasma lacked the oxygen-carrying capacity of whole blood, it was an exceedingly useful product for the replacement of volume and clotting factors, especially in victims of trauma and war.