Richard Lower Biography


Born: 1631

Born In: Bodmin, United Kingdom

Richard Lower was an English physicist best known for his works on blood transfusion and his other contribution to medical science. Richard was interested in medicine from an early age and completed his education at Westminster School and later at Christ Church, Oxford University. There he met and worked with some esteemed physicians such as John Locke and Thomas Willis. It was under Thomas’ guidance that Richard was able to conduct most of his experiments that were related to blood circulation by the heart and lungs. However, Richard is best known as the visionary who performed the first blood transfusion successfully between two dogs. After failing to find a willing human volunteer, he eventually found a scholar who volunteered for the same. Sheep’s blood was successfully transfused to him in front of the Royal Society. However, the process gained notoriety due to morality issues and it was eventually banned from France and England. Richard, however, carried on with his research work and later concentrated on the study of cerebrospinal fluid. He was awarded the honour of being a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 60


father: Humphrey Billing

mother: Margery

Born Country: England

British Men Christ Church, Oxford

Died on: January 7, 1691

place of death: Covent Garden, London, United Kingdom

Cause of Death: Fever

More Facts

education: Christ Church, Oxford

Childhood & Early Life

Richard Lower was born in 1631, in Bodmin, Cornwall, England. His parents were Margery and Humphrey Billing. Upon growing up, he attended the Westminster School in London. He had always been interested in the medical field, which led to his association with John Locke. John was one of the best-known philosophers and physicians of his time, who is currently known as the ‘father of liberalism’.

Richard later attended Christ Church, Oxford, which was a constituent college of the University of Oxford. In college, he met Thomas Willis, who was yet another highly influential physician. The company of these men shaped Richard’s mindset while he was still young. Thomas’ main area of interest was the study of the central nervous system. Together, they continued researching in the field. It was while working with Thomas Willis that Richard actually began his actual research on the human body.

Thomas was a professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Oxford and Richard remained his student for a long time. They also researched together with the central human nervous system. Richard earned his M.D. degree in 1665.

In addition, he also met Robert Hooke and carried on with his research on multiple aspects of the human body and mind.

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While working at the University of Oxford, Richard was a part of an informal research team. In addition to experiments on blood transfusion, Richard also did intense research on the functioning of the human heart and the blood circulation around the lungs. During the period of Interregnum, he performed experiments in a laboratory and it was during this period that he came up with the possibility of blood transfusion. His main area of interest was experimental physiology.

In one of his researches, he traced the flow of human blood through the heart and to different organs within the body. He noticed that the path of the blood circulation is different when it happens under the skin. On the other hand, if it was exposed to air, its path would be different. This was important research for its time and the findings were published, which had become a highly esteemed literature among the physicians. He was also the first-ever physician to establish the difference between venous and arterial blood.

Now, everything aside, he is perhaps best known for his research on blood transfusion, which is considered to be one of the pathbreaking discoveries in the field of medical science. However, he was not the very first man to suggest that something as seemingly impossible as blood transfusion can actually take place in human beings.

The idea was first brought to light for the first time in Paris, by a French monk. In July 1658, at the French Academy of Sciences, the concept was proposed for the first time. Richard became inspired by it and understanding the theoretical aspects of blood transfusion, he began researching on his own. In 1665, he conducted a successful blood transfusion process between two dogs. While it was still not available to humans, it was still a pathbreaking concept.

However, Richard was still away from gathering resources to conduct a similar experiment on humans. A few years after he successfully proved on animals that such a process was in fact possible, a French doctor named Jean-Baptiste Denis performed a similar experiment on humans when he transfuse a sheep’s blood into a young boy of 15.

However, it was difficult for Richard to find the subject to conduct his experiment. People still believed that blood transfusion, especially from an animal to a man, was impossible and would have bad repercussions. However, Richard knew that what he was doing could help humanity a great deal by infusion of new blood into a body and removal of old blood. Edmund King, one of the students of Willis, stood by Richard for the experiment and together, they planned to do it, but they couldn’t find a volunteer.

Shortly after this, Richard successfully performed the first animal-to-human blood documented blood transfusion process with Edmund King, who was another student of Willis.  The blood transfusion was performed on an eccentric scholar who agreed to be a part of this scientific project. The process took place in front of the Royal Society in 1667.

Royal Society was one of the most esteemed scholarly organizations in Europe. Hence, when the Society accepted that the procedure was, in fact, a success, Richard’s popularity soared through the national borders. There were occasions when it was performed in France and Italy but seeing the consequences and the risk associated with it, the process was eventually prohibited from becoming a common practice.

Robert Boyle was a natural philosopher who also had been against the process. He had seen the dogs on whom the experiment was conducted. He questioned whether the animal giving blood will have lasting physical and mental issues since the dog on which the first transfusion was conducted died a few days later. Despite Richard’s efforts, the process was prohibited in France in 1670 and in England a few months later.

In addition to blood transfusion, Richard also worked extensively on the formation and circulation of cerebrospinal fluid. He also wrote Diatribae T. Willisii de Febribus Vindicatio, a book which was an answer to the critics of doctor Willis and his doctrine of fevers. In 1669, in his late 30s, he published a book titled Tractatus de Corde. In the book, he wrote about all the research he had done so far on human lungs and heart. His pioneer research in the human heart paved way for the coming generation of physicians to better understand the workings of the human heart along with the blood transfusion process. 

Despite the blood transfusion process getting banned, its success led Richard to become an esteemed physician in the country. In 1675, he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. In the same year, Willis passed away, which was a major shock for Richard. After that, Richard mostly kept himself busy with a private medical practice setup. He did that until the end of his life.

In the 1680s, Richard was appointed as the court physician when Charles II fell ill. He kept his position as the court physician after James II ascended the throne but not for long. He was removed from his position due to his anti-pope and protestant sentiments.

Personal Life & Death

Richard Lower did not marry all his life. After his death, he left all his belongings at St. Batholomew’s Hospital located in London.

Richard passed away on January 17, 1691, due to a prolonged high fever. He was 60 years old at the time of his demise.

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