The Father(s) of Hematology

Who best deserves the be known as ’the Father of Hematology’? Candidates were identified in a Google search for ‘Father of Hematology’.

This approbation clearly goes to an historical figure, which explains the inherent sexism of the question—men have dominated the field from the beginning. This is fortunately changing—even if slowly. An op-ed in The Hematologist, published by the American Society of Hematology, notes that “…half of the eight recipients of ASH honorific awards or named lectureships in 2013 were women.”  

That said, we have three candidates for ‘the Father of Hematology':

William Hewson   Great Britain   1739-1774
Maxwell Wintrobe   United States   1901-1986
Donald Metcalf   Australia   1929-2014

William Hewson

This son of a small town apothecary/surgeon, his career accelerated on arrival in London, where he lodged with the eminent surgeon John Hunter, took up a partnership with Hunter’s older brother, William and taught anatomy until they fell out over a dispute about credit for discoveries. Hewson’s mother-in-law was Ben Franklin’s London landlady.

Hewson set up his own anatomy school in the basement of the "Franklin House". The discovery of bones in the basement some 225 years later was initially treated as a criminal investigation. Hewson cut himself while dissecting and died of infection at the age of 35. 

Hewson made seminal discoveries in all three major branches of hematology: first to describe that red cells are concave, that clotting was due to fibrinogen and that the lymph vessels, nodes, thymus and spleen area a unified system. His original works are available online. Other papers of interest: British Journal of Hematology

Books related to Hewson (Amazon links)

Benjamin Franklin in London

Historian George Goodwin's account is acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal and The Times of London. Franklin was of the scientific brotherhood occupied by famous physicians of the Enlightenment Age.

Doctor Franklin's Medicine

"Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in founding the first major civilian hospital and medical school and in the American colonies. He studied the efficacy of smallpox inoculation and investigated the causes of the common cold. As Finger shows, Franklin approached medicine in the spirit of the Enlightenment and with the mindset of an experimental natural philosopher..."

The Works of William Hewson

The pioneering studies in all their glory.
“This book is a reproduction of an important historical work. Forgotten Books uses state-of-the-art technology to digitally reconstruct the work, preserving the original format whilst repairing imperfections present in the aged copy. ”

Maxwell Wintrobe

Wintrobe's family were Austrian Jews who fled to Canada. While a medical student at the University of Manitoba, he took a job in the blood bank. The rest is history. At Tulane, the chief of medicine convinced him to write the hematology chapter for the prevailing textbook of medicine.

His article The Erythrocyte in Man was admired by the editor—the chief of medicine at Hopkins—and he was offered a position teaching clinical microscopy there. He left this pinnacle to found hematology at Utah, making it a world class program. A first-person biography and his hematology chapter from Tice's Medicine 1922 (progenitor of the canonical Wintrobe's Clinical Hematology textbook) are available online.

Wintrobe's contributions were primarily to do with the red cell. His Wintrobe tube and indices gave us a way to describe anemias. But he also first described cryoglobulin, and was an integral part of the team that developed nitrogen mustard for chemotherapy. Papers of interest: J Appl Hematol • National Academy of Sciences 

Books related to Wintrobe (Amazon links)

Blood Pure and Eloquent

This is a wonderful book for any student of hematology. Lovingly edited by Wintrobe it hard to find but worth it for hard core fans of the subject, personably written and scholarly thorough. The title is from Dr. Faustus, at the signing of the contract with the devil—in blood.

Hematology, the Blossoming of a Science: A Story of Inspiration and Effort

"Written by a man perhaps the greatest hematologist of the twentieth century, this history begins with the development of the microscope and ends with the progress being made in cancer therapy. Dr Wintrobe has the ego strength to give due credit to Dr Bill Dameshek, probably his only rival for the title of King of Hematology."

Donald Metcalf

Metcalf came from a small Australian town, attended medial school at the University of Sydney, married a nurse and got a position at the WEHI Institute where his boss, the nobel prize winner Macfarlane Burnet told him he was crazy to work on cancer.

Aside from a brief stint at Harvard the Institute was his permanent home, from which he earned virtually every prize in medicine short of the Nobel. His dogged pursuit of blood cell growth and regulation lead to insights into hematologic malignancies and the discovery of growth factors that support chemotherapy treatment. Papers of interest: The Scientist Magazine • National Academy of Sciences

Books related to Metcalf (Amazon links)

Summon up the Blood: In dogged pursuit of the blood cell regulators

By Metcalf, "treats us to the unvarnished "behind the scenes" story as he and his research team discovered, characterized, purified and then brought these hopeful new blood cell regulators to clinical trials. This history of the "colony stimulating factors" is Don's autobiography."

The Hemopoietic Colony-stimulating Factors: From Biology to Clinical Applications

"Written by two of the pioneers in the discovery of CSFs, this is a clear and well illustrated survey of current knowledge and future directions that will prove invaluable for cell biologists interested in how growth factors act on the body, as well as for clinicians applying the fruits of modern biotechnology to improved patient care."

As they say—"success has many fathers."