by Bernard Chan

Blood has always fascinated mankind.  It is a symbol of love, of high emotion. It is also most looked for at a crime scene. We speak of people who are hot blooded or cold blooded. Sometimes we say an organization needs “fresh blood”.

Hematology, the scientific and medical study of blood is a big subject, since blood circulates to all organs and tissues of the body.  The heart, the brain, the kidneys, to just give a few examples, require huge amount of blood supply for proper function.  The control of abnormal clotting or bleeding in the heart circulation or the brain are among the most important advances in medicine.

Life is never dull in the field of hematology.  Major triumphs include the development of blood transfusion after the First World War, an advance that also transformed the specialty of surgery. Pernicious anemia, previously fatal, is now completely cured by just giving vitamin B12.  Childhood leukemia is now 90% curable. APL, a form of acute leukemia, is also highly curable using an inexpensive vitamin A analogue and sometimes arsenic. Interestingly this transforming advance in the treatment of APL was pioneered in Shanghai by Dr Chen Zhu, who later became the minister of health of China.

I have been fortunate to spend nearly my entire professional life in hematology.  Of its many branches, the one that most fascinated me is immunology. The immune system, with its many blood cells such as antibody producing B cells, natural killer cells and T cells that help fight viruses and cancer, has a huge repertoire.  In 1960 the Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to Medawar and Burnet for research in acquired immunological tolerance, launching a new era in immunology.  Further Nobel laureates in immunology include Jerne (for antibody network), Milstein (antibody structure) and Thomas (bone marrow transplantation).  Thomas made a visit to Hong Kong shortly before the Nobel ceremony (“Bernard, I need some good suits made for Stockholm”).

Although semi-retired, I am still involve in reproductive immunology, in collaboration with Rosalyn Franklin University in Chicago, helping women with dysfunctional immune responses to produce babies. Next month we will have a party to celebrate our first 100 babies. See our website: proimmune-fertility.org