Picture yourself in a hospital about to have surgery. Your doctor enters the operating room . . . with a live goat. In 1878, a doctor in New York City did just that. The patient was suffering from tuberculosis. Dr. Joseph Howe injected the goat’s milk directly into her veins. He wanted to find out if the treatment would help her. Luckily, the patient survived, but not all who received this treatment did. Back in Howe’s day, some doctors thought milk could replace human blood.
The search for a blood substitute started in the 1600s. Doctors injected patients with different substances over the years. They tried cow’s milk, sheep’s blood, and even urine. These treatments didn’t work, and they were also quite dangerous.
Sometimes people lose a great deal of blood because of an injury, and others have certain blood disorders. Today, these patients commonly receive blood transfusions. Human donors provide blood, and medical staff inject it into a patient’s body. But donated blood is often in short supply. And only certain types can be given safely to certain people.
That’s why scientists are still searching for a safe substitute for human blood. And they want to make sure it has features similar to real human blood. That way, it will help sick people, instead of making them worse. If scientists succeed, many lives could be saved. But the hunt for artificial blood has proved trickier than anyone imagined.