Patrick Mollison


Professor Patrick Mollison CBE FRS (1932), born 17 March 1914, was a pioneer of blood transfusion during the Second World War.

He later became Professor of Haematology at St Mary’s Hospital, London. His textbook, Blood Transfusion in Clinical Medicine, colloquially known as “Mollison”, was first published in 1951 and, now in its 12th edition, remains an essential reference source for all transfusion scientists as well as for clinicians. 

Patrick Mollison was educated at Rugby School and then came up to Clare in 1932 to read Natural Sciences (with papers on comparative anatomy and physiology), where he enjoyed playing tennis and squash in his spare time. He then went to St Thomas’ in London for clinical training, qualifying in 1938. When war broke out in September 1939, he was a young doctor at the South London Blood Supply Depot, in Sutton. He had been seconded there by St Thomas' medical school dean, who realised that the new facility of blood transfusion promised to be an important way of saving lives. Mollison's job was to treat civilian casualties and to carry out research into making transfusion safer; a goal he certainly achieved. 

Working with John Loutit and Maureen Young, Mollison carried out a systematic study of acidified chlorate-dextrose solutions (ACDs) which established not only that blood stored in ACD was harmless to the recipient, but that the survival of red blood cells after storage was much improved. Their paper on the subject, published in 1943 and later the standard text on the subject, led to the use of an ACD solution as the usual preservative for blood, solving one of the main difficulties faced by transfusion units in the early years of the war; the short shelf-life of stored blood.

Mollison entered the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1943, and after serving as a medical officer in training units in Britain, was sent to Germany towards the end of the war. He was one of the first doctors to enter the concentration camp of Belsen on its liberation in April 1945. The following year he published a paper in the British Medical Journal, entitled Observations on cases of starvation at Belsen, in which he described the physical state of the surviving inmates, many of whom were suffering from tuberculosis or typhus and all of whom were severely anaemic after prolonged, systematic starvation.

In 1946 the Medical Research Council gave Mollison his own Blood Transfusion Research Unit at the Hammersmith Postgraduate Medical School, attached to the hospital’s Obstetric department. There, among other things, he led research on the survival of red blood cells post-transfusion and on adverse reactions, such as that caused by rhesus incompatibility, sometimes seen in transfusion patients and also in newborns. The first exchange transfusion carried out on a British newborn suffering from blood poisoning caused by rhesus incompatibility was carried out on a laboratory bench in Mollison’s unit. It was also during this period that he wrote his classic textbook. In 1960 the MRC Blood Transfusion Research Unit moved to St Mary’s Hospital Medical School and was renamed the Experimental Haematology Unit. Mollison remained director of the unit until his retirement in 1979. He was elected FRS in 1968. He died on 26 November 2011. 


<< Back: Anne Glover |  Next: Mark Walport >>