At the beginning of the twentieth century, Karl Landsteiner observed that when mixing the blood of two people the red blood cells spontaneously clumped together to form lumps. Thankfully rare, this phenomenon was potentially highly dangerous and could even cause death after blood transfusions.
The ABO discovery
Puzzled, and determined to find answers, Landsteiner analyzed the blood of 22 people, including his own. He separated and washed the red blood cells from each sample and immersed them in a physiological saline solution to create control sera.
Mixing various blood samples with different sera caused three different types of agglutination reaction, which he named type A, B and O, respectively. It was the Vienna of 1901 and the ABO system blood typing systems had just been born. Two years later, two of his pupils, Alfredo Castello and Adriano Sturli, discovered the fourth and last group, type AB.
Extending the role of sera
This era was the dawn of hematology and hemotherapy, and at the time a young Josep Antoni Grífols i Roig was already working with sera with clumping properties. He was quick to realize the importance of the work of Landsteiner and his collaborators.
In the 10s and 20s he developed a deep and wide-ranging knowledge of sera reactions. Later, in the 30s and 40s, he developed the first control sera which would evolve to become one of the pillars of the Grifols company.
Further progress, including automation
Landsteiner made further progress with blood typing in 1940, this time in partnership with Alexander Salomon Wiener. Their joint discovery was the Rhesus (Rh) antigen. Combing Rh testing between donor and recipient with that of the ABO system made problems of incompatibility almost nil, and added to the safety and efficiency of any blood bank.
These days, automated systems of blood typing have superseded the old manual techniques, but the basic science of sera remains intact. Grifols was a key part of this technological evolution, developing diagnostic cards that could be machine read and automatically analyzed.
Communication and collaboration led to better blood typing,
and allowed transfusion to become commonplace