Blog of Bloodworks Northwest

10 women hematology pioneers

Charles Drew and Karl Landsteiner may not be household names but they’re well-known within blood banking and hematology. Even less mainstream are the female physicians and researchers who made their mark on this field.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrate 10 pioneering women in transfusion medicine.

Winifred Mayer Ashby, PhD (1879 – 1975)

Using a groundbreaking technique that bears her name (the Ashby method), Dr. Ashby challenged the assumptions of her time to show that the lifespan of erythrocytes (red blood cells) is upwards of 100 days. The resulting understanding of red cell longevity provided better insight into anemias and hemolytic diseases and led to the development of anticoagulants and preservative solutions in blood transfusion.

Jane F. Desforges, MD (1921 – 2013)

Noted as an expert on anemias, particularly sickle-cell disease and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Dr. Desforges served as president of the American Society of Hematology, among other distinctions.

Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD (1939 – )

Dr. Gaston’s work showed that identifying sickle cell disease at birth and administering prophylactic penicillin dramatically improved patient outcomes; her study of sickle-cell disease led to a nationwide screening program for newborns.

She served as deputy branch chief of the NIH’s Sickle Cell Disease Branch and later became the first African American woman to direct a public health service bureau as director of the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Eloise ‘Elo’ Giblett, MD (1921 – 2009)

As a hematologist at, and later president of, Bloodworks Northwest, Dr. Giblett improved blood transfusion outcomes in a multitude of ways.

Her research led to safer and more personalized blood transfusions by identifying new antigens on red blood cells, including the ‘Elo’ antigen, and the connections between race, genetics, and disease.

Her leadership of Bloodworks from 1978 to 1987 led to safer transfusions during the AIDS crisis, a fitting role for the woman who also discovered the first known immunodeficiency disease (adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency); Dr. Giblett determined a screening process for donors.

Lastly, her support of bone marrow transplantation has saved the lives of countless blood cancer and blood disorder patients.

Judith Graham Pool, PhD (1919 – 1975)

Dr. Pool’s research into blood coagulation led her to discover cryoprecipitate, processed blood clotting factors given to help control unwanted bleeding, particularly in patients with hemophilia. This advancement dramatically improved quality of life for patients with hemophilia, who could now administer treatment at home as soon as it was needed.

Helen Ranney, MD (1920 – 2010)

Dr. Ranney primarily studied the biochemistry of hemoglobin. By comparing hemoglobin in healthy cells against those with sickle cell disease (SCD), she determined that SCD is a genetic condition. Dr. Ranney became the first woman to chair a Department of Medicine at an American university and served as the first female president of the Association of American Physicians.

Clarice Reid, MD (1931 – )

Dr. Reid led the National Sickle Cell Disease Program at the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health and later became the Director of the Division of Blood Diseases and Resources at NHLBI. In these roles, she oversaw nationwide programs in thrombosis and hemostasis, cellular hematology, SCD, transfusion medicine, HIV, and bone marrow transplantation.

Lucy Wills, LRCP (1888 – 1964)

Dr. Wills studied macrocytic anemia in pregnancy, a condition where red blood cells are larger than average in size but fewer in number, leading to decreased ability to carry oxygen. Her work determined a dietary connection: Wills factor, later determined to be folate, and vitamin B12.

Rosalyn Yalow, PhD (1921 – 2011)

Bloodworks performs 13 tests on each unit of donated blood, a safety measure that’s possible thanks to Dr. Yalow’s work. Dr. Yalow won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977 for pioneering radioimmunoassay, a method for measuring concentrations of substances in blood. This research today allows us to test donated blood for pathogens like HIV and hepatitis.

Dorothea Zucker-Franklin, MD (1929 – 2015)

After surviving the Holocaust, Dr. Zucker-Franklin literally wrote the book on blood cells. Her Atlas of Blood Cells showcased her work using electron microscopy to study blood cells and how they respond to various pathogens and stimuli.

Hematology is an ever-evolving field, and a new generation of female physicians and researchers, like those at Bloodworks Research Institute, are working hard to make new discoveries that will save lives and help us better understand blood, blood banking, and transfusion medicine.

March 4, 2024 5:24PM

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