Black History Month – Honoring Dr. Charles Richard Drew
As part of Black History Month, Fletcher Yoder is spotlighting black inventors who made significant impacts in their respective career fields.
Dr. Charles Richard Drew was an American surgeon whose research and inventions in the field of blood plasma preservation led to the establishment of blood banks. He protested against racial segregation of donated blood. Dr. Drew was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015, and is an inventor on U.S. Patent No. 2,389,355.
Dr. Drew was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and attended Amherst College, where he played football and ran track. After graduation, he served as a professor of chemistry and biology at Morgan College on Baltimore, Maryland. He went on to attend medical school at McGill University, graduating second in his class and receiving a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery Award in 1933. He later earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University.
Dr. Drew’s thesis at Columbia centered on his discovery that an individual’s blood type is determined by their blood cells. Therefore, blood plasma, which does not contain blood cells, can be given to any donor and does not need to be matched to blood type. He also invented a method of drying and reconstituting plasma, permitting improved storage and transport. His work was a critical success for emergency and battlefield medicine during the Second World War.
In 1941, Dr. Drew became the first director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank, which was the first national blood bank in the United States. Among other notable career achievements, he was also the first African-American surgeon to serve as examiner on the American Board of Surgery and was a consultant to the Surgeon General. At the time of his death, he was professor and chief of surgery at the Howard Medical School.