Nine Pints | Rose George

Summary of: Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood
By: Rose George


Embark on a captivating journey through the world of blood in ‘Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood,’ by Rose George. Discover the multifaceted functions of blood, its crucial importance in our well-being, and its intersection with medicine, culture, and society. Unravel the mysteries surrounding blood types, the role of leeches, the history and development of blood transfusions, and the various uses and challenges of plasma. The summary also delves into societal issues involving menstruation, HIV and AIDS, and the implications of trauma on our blood. Gain valuable insights into the world of blood and the life-saving potential it embodies.

The Marvels of Blood

The human blood is a marvel with many functions that keep our bodies alive. It is carried by the heart and lungs and performs everyday functions such as delivering oxygen, disposing of waste and blood clotting. White blood cells fight foreign bodies, while blood transfusion helps in saving lives. Blood also has different types, which need to be considered in transfusions to avoid hemolytic shock and prevent death.

Our bodies are made up of many organs, and we tend to overlook the importance of blood in our everyday lives. Both the lungs and the heart work to serve blood in carrying out their functions. The lungs introduce oxygen into the blood, while the heart moves blood throughout the body.

The blood is an everyday tool with many functions. For instance, our blood has 30 trillion red blood cells that deliver oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues while conducting waste disposal by taking the used oxygen back to the lungs for removal. These cells travel a remarkable 12,000 miles in a day, showing just how crucial blood is to our existence.

Blood also has other cells, like the platelets that clot the blood to stop bleeding when we injure ourselves. This process involves millions of platelets and proteins, and it’s incredible how the leading actors work together to safeguard our bodies. Similarly, white blood cells do the dirty job of fighting against harmful foreign bodies such as bacteria or viruses.

In medicine, blood transfusions are an essential process. Transplant patients, for instance, require red blood cells to accept new organs, and cancer patients with a deficit of platelets are infused with more. Shockingly, someone needs a transfusion of an entirely different blood every three seconds globally. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of procedure, and blood has to be carefully considered before being transfused since it has different types according to antigens. The body will only accept the correct type of blood, and in worst-case scenarios, a patient can go into hemolytic shock and die if the blood type is wrong.

Finally, leeches are known to welcome any blood type. However, with the current technology and sophisticated processes, one can get the right blood type for transfusion, which highlights the importance of careful consideration before any transfusion. In conclusion, the blood is an essential part of our body that keeps us alive and performing our daily activities, and we should pay more attention to it.

The Medical Marvel of Leeches

Despite being viewed as slimy parasites, leeches have been used for centuries in medicine due to their ability to remove excess blood and their powerful anticoagulants.

Leeches may be reviled by many humans, but these wiggly creatures have graced medical practice and played an important role in human history. Before modern medicine, people believed that illnesses stemmed from too much blood in the body. As a result, leeching – using leeches to drain excess blood – was a common practice in many cultures. This practice persisted through the centuries and was used in ancient Egypt and Greece. Even the Hindu god of medicine, Dhanvantari, was commonly depicted with a jar of leeches.

During the 19th century, leeches were in high demand among medical professionals as they believed that withdrawing blood from patients could prevent or cure diseases. This led to “leech mania,” which drove leeches to the brink of extinction in England. However, this practice was eventually dismissed as ineffective and outdated.

Today, leeches have found a new purpose in the medical field. When a leech attaches itself to a host, it secretes a complex set of chemicals that thin the blood and prevent clots. These anticoagulants are made of proteins and peptides and have proven to be highly effective in allowing blood to flow freely to wounds. Even in the midst of technological advancements, leeches remain an important tool in modern medicine. In fact, leeches’ anticoagulants are still more effective than any compound engineered by pharmaceutical companies, making them a valuable resource for plastic surgeons who use them for postoperative treatment.

Despite their creepy reputation, leeches have proven to be medically remarkable and continue to be an integral part of medical procedures today.

Medical Pioneer: Dame Janet Vaughan

Dame Janet Vaughan was a pioneering woman in British medical care. Her passion for the research of blood led to groundbreaking discoveries and the establishment of the Emergency Blood Transfusion Service during WWII, which saved countless lives.

Born in 1899, Vaughan was a trailblazer, fighting for an education when educated women were frowned upon. She studied medical sciences at the University of Oxford and became an expert on blood diseases. Vaughan’s most significant contribution to medicine was establishing the Emergency Blood Transfusion Service when WWII was looming. Vaughan set up the EBTS which had four depots outside London that took blood from donors and delivered it to city hospitals in milk bottles and converted ice cream trucks capable of refrigeration.

During wartime, the EBTS saved countless lives, and it served the peacetime population after WWII. Vaughan’s work was important because war instilled the value of collective sacrifice in the British population, and her idea of blood donations persists even today. Although Vaughan faced significant challenges, including being the only female student at Harvard University during her time, she conducted pioneering research on vitamin B12 deficiencies in blood, and she published The Anaemias, a groundbreaking textbook in the field of hematology. She was a true medical pioneer who made significant contributions to British medical care.

The cost of plasma

Plasma, accounting for over 50% of blood volume, plays a crucial role in medical treatments. Source plasma, extracted through apheresis machines, is used to create important components like immunoglobulins and albumin. However, separating Factor VIII from source plasma is challenging, leading to the payment of plasma donors. The US leads the world in plasma exports, but plasma donors are often from vulnerable areas and may experience health risks. The plasma industry remains a dilemma without an easy solution.

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