Richard Lower - Inventor of Blood Transfusion

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Richard Lower
Richard Lower

Richard Lower was born in 1631 on the family estate at Tremeer, near Bodmin. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford. He obtained his degree and remained at Oxford to study medicine. In 1666, he moved to London and started a medical practice. Before long, he became a member of the Royal Society and a successful court physician.

Lower was involved in some of the earliest experiments with blood transfusions, following the similar investigations of Christopher Wren a few years earlier. His early subjects were dogs but he was also involved in the first experimental transfusions of blood into a human subject in 1666.

Lower is particularly famous for his work on the brain and nerves, which he carried out as the assistant of Thomas Willis in Oxford during the course of his medical studies. His anatomical and physiological investigation of the structure and action of the heart is recognised as an early breakthrough and he was recognised as one of the most skilled vivisectionists of his time.

Following the accession of James II, Lower fell into disrepute due to his anti-Catholic beliefs; he lost his court appointment and his medical practice suffered. He spent an increasing amount of his time in Cornwall until his death in 1691. He bequeathed money to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and to French and Irish Protestant refugees, making plain where his religious beliefs lay.