Blair-Bell 10: Blood Transfusions and Cancer Research

And so the cataloguing continues, and the overriding theme of these series of papers relating to Professor Blair-Bell seems to be his connection with the Liverpool Medical Research Organisation ath the University of Liverpool, including its administration, and his involvement in research into the use of lead preparations as a treatment for cancer.

Some of the highlights of the papers catalogued during the last couple of weeks have to be the details available relating to cancer research, covering the period 1924 to 1931. They include unused examples of the forms needed for permission to perform experiments on animals in 1922, and discussion about the issues of patenting the lead colloid preparation which Blair-Bell and the chemists at Liverpool University had perfected. The details about the research work being carried out on the use of lead are full of statistics about dosage, patient outcome, and original diagnosis, and show the extent of Blair-Bell’s determination to carry out the work, together with the extent to which numerous departments within the University were involved and the progress of similar research work. Of particular interest are the correspondence files with plumbers’ associations and companies. This correspondence is based on Blair-Bell’s initial approaches regarding the incidence of cancer among men involved in the handling of lead piping, namely plumbers and associated tradesmen, and the letters ensuing from this enquiry give a good insight into these occupations and the very evident close links between associations and the workmen.

Other files relate to Blair-Bell’s position as one of the leading obstetricians and gynaecologists in Great Britain. This is evident in his role as an external examiner in obstetrics and gynaecology for the University of Wales, with papers which not only reveal the discussions which shaped the examinations and medical teaching in the specialty, but also give details about salaries paid to professors and requirements of the role of examiner. There are notes on a meeting of June 1927, which was attended by many of the obstetricians and gynaecologists who signed up to be Foundation Fellows of the British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1929, and which reinforces the strong network which gave foundation to the birth of the College. This theme about the importance of medical education is brought out also in the correspondence between Blair-Bell and the County Health Department of Cumberland, with arrangements made for Blair-Bell to give ‘refresher’ lessons in antenatal work to medical assistants from Cumberland in 1930.

My favourite find within these papers was the file relating to the Merseyside Blood Transfusion Service between 1936 and 1939. Below you will find a sketch of the equipment used for blood transfusions, given together with detailed instructions on procedures for using the equipment and giving transfusions. The instructions are accompanied by the wartime reminder: ‘Please remember every bottle of stored blood has been given by a donor imbued with the spirit of national service; any waste of it should therefore be avoided.’

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

I will end with the thought of how relevant some parts of these papers are to issues today: the long discussions about raising funds for the British Empire Cancer Campaign has resonance with current difficulties of charities and appeals and Rex Cohen, Treasurer of the Liverpool Cancer Research Committee told Blair-Bell: ‘It is, I believe, impossible to find a worse time for appealing than the present moment: the whole country, particularly Lancashire, has been through an extremely bad time commercially for the last two or three years…and no-one has any money for their own needs even.’

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Cristy Mccutchen says:

    Recent research coming out of the National Anemia Action Council (NAAC) has found that the common practice of administering blood transfusion to traumatic brain injury patients may actually be increasing the risk of mortality as well as “composite complication including multi-organ failure.”The study, which lasted over a seven-year period, found that of the 1,150 TBI patients, approximately 76 percent were found to be anemic at some time period during their first week after administration to the hospital because of their TBI incident. The anemic group was said to have increased complications compared to non-anemic patients and of the “anemic group, 76 percent received blood transfusions during their first week and the transfusion in this group was associated with more complications and a higher mortality rate than patients who were not transfused.”;

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