Karl Landsteiner Biography


Birthday: June 14, 1868 (Gemini)

Born In: Vienna

Karl Landsteiner was an Austrian biologist and physician, who is particularly notable for his work in the field of hematology, which revolutionized the process of blood transfusion. His research in the field of immunology is just as significant as his hematology research, as it led to the isolation of previously deadly viruses and the subsequent development of vaccines against them. Due to his groundbreaking work and singular personality, which has been described as being sad and intense, he acquired many nicknames, including the father of immunology, the father of hematology, and the melancholy genius. Despite the financial hardship Dr. Landsteiner faced during the early years of his career in his native Vienna, he never gave up his beloved research, contributing many important scientific findings during these lean times. Dr. Landsteiner was mentored by some of the leading scientific minds of his time, which no doubt helped him to expand his already prodigious intellect and delve further into his research. He was a man of a solitary nature who preferred to live away from other people, and as such never gave any interviews about his revolutionary work and its impact. Possessing high intelligence and a tireless work ethic, Karl Landsteiner was a scientific pioneer who changed the face of medical treatment forever. Hundreds owe their lives to his research; read on to know more about his contribution to the scientific community
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 75

Biologists Immunologists

Died on: June 26, 1943

place of death: New York City

More Facts

education: University of Vienna

awards: 1930 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1946 - Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award

Childhood & Early Life
Karl Landsteiner was born on June 14, 1868, in Vienna, Austria, as the only child of the famed journalist, lawyer and newspaper publisher, Leopold Landsteiner, and his wife, Fanny Hess.
At the age of six, Karl’s father passed away, leading him to develop a very close relationship with his mother, which lasted throughout his life.
He proved himself to be a brilliant student in his youth and was permitted to begin studies at the ‘University of Austria’ in 1885, when he was just seventeen years old.
He graduated from the ‘University of Austria’ with a degree in medicine in 1891, although he chose to become a research scientist instead of a medical practitioner, feeling the future of medicine was in research.
Although he was born Jewish, he converted to Catholicism in 1890, because during time in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire only Catholics could become professors.
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In 1891, Karl Landsteiner published his first scientific work, a paper about the influence of diet on the composition of blood ash.
From 1891-1893, Landsteiner immersed himself in the study of chemistry, studying under Arthur Rudolf Hantzsch, Hermann Emil Fisher, and Eugen Bamberger in their labs in Zurich, Wurzburg and Munchen, respectively.
In 1896 he became an assistant to well-known bacteriologist Max von Gruber at the ‘Hygienic Institute of Vienna’, where he concentrated his studies on the natures of immunity and antibodies.
From November 1897 to 1908, he was an assistant under Anton Weischelbaum at the pathological-anatomical institute of the ‘University of Vienna’.
In 1901, Karl made his groundbreaking discovery that, contrary to the previously held belief that all humans’ blood was the same, there are actually four different blood groups and three different blood types.
In 1911, he became an associate professor of pathological anatomy at the ‘WIlhelminenspital’ in Vienna. During this time, he and his partner Erwin Popper also discovered and isolated the polio virus, making the development of a vaccine possible.
In 1922, he accepted a position at the ‘Rockefeller Institute’ in America, which remained his place of employment for the remainder of his life.
In 1927, he revised the blood group work he had done over 25 years before by discovering 20 new blood groups, which led to the development of modern paternity tests.
During the period of 1930-1932, Landsteiner and his research partner, Clara Nigg, successfully cultured the causative agent of typhus.
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Major Works
He published his groundbreaking paper detailing the different human blood groups in 1901, which was entitled ‘On agglutination phenomena of normal human blood’.
In 1936, he published his seminal work about the immune system entitled ‘The Specificity of the Serologic Reactions’, a book which is still considered a classic in its field.
Awards & Achievements
In 1927, Karl Landsteiner received an honorary degree from the ‘University of Chicago’, and two years later was named president of the ‘American Association of Immunologists’.
He won the ‘Nobel Prize’ in 1930 in the category of ‘Physiology and Medicine’ for his work in detecting different human blood groups.
He received honorary degrees from both ‘Cambridge’ and the ‘Free University of Brussels’ in 1934, as well as an honorary degree from ‘Harvard’ two years later.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1916, Karl Landsteiner married Leopoldine Helene Wlasto, who converted from her Greek Orthodox faith to her husband’s adopted religion of Roman Catholicism. Their only child, a son named Ernst Karl, was born the following year.
With his family, he relocated to New York City to take a job at the ‘Rockefeller Institute’ in 1923; he was granted American citizenship five years later.
On June 24, 1943, Landsteiner had a heart attack in his laboratory at the ‘Rockefeller Institute’ in New York where he continued research even after his retirement. He passed away in the hospital two days later.
Karl Landsteiner died with his pipette in hand. A death mask of Dr. Landsteiner’s beloved mother, Fanny Hess, hung on his wall until he died.
Dr. Landsteiner was an excellent pianist and he was also known to bring his beloved dog, Waldi, to his lab with him and let him sit underneath his desk.
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