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October 2019

Blumberg to be Inducted into the National Blood Foundation Hall of Fame


Neil Blumberg, M.D.Neil Blumberg, M.D., professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of Blood Bank/Transfusion Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is being inducted into the National Blood Foundation Hall of Fame on Oct. 19, 2019.

For more than 30 years, Blumberg and a team of collaborators have been investigating how to make blood transfusions safer for the millions of hospitalized patients who receive them every day. He’s been an ardent local, regional, and national advocate for fewer transfusions, despite push-back from many in the medical field.

Some of his earliest work, which established Blumberg as a leader, showed poorer outcomes for cancer patients who received donor blood. These study results changed clinical practice at URMC and increased the survival odds for young leukemia patients. Later, Blumberg showed that filtering the foreign white blood cells from donor blood when transfusions are necessary resulted in fewer cardiopulmonary complications for patients.

And in 2014, Blumberg and co-authors published a groundbreaking JAMA analysis showing that doing fewer blood transfusions reduces infection rates by nearly 20 percent. The study was the first to show conclusively — by analyzing 18 randomized clinical trials involving 8,700 patients — that reducing the number of transfusions not only saved lives but can decrease health care costs significantly.

“My advice to young physicians, medical technologists, scientists and nurses who want to do research is to find problems you think are important and are passionate about,” Blumberg said, in a recent article in the American Association of Blood Banks newsletter that honored his Hall of Fame recognition.

“Don’t allow failure or disapproval of your results by others discourage you too much,” he said. “Consider feedback, but if you find results contrary to the conventional wisdom, read about Semmelweis, whose instructing physicians to wash their hands prior to delivering babies was met with contempt. Read about Bernard Fisher, the surgeon whose work demonstrating that the Halstead radical mastectomy was ineffective and only created suffering was met with a mixture of disbelief and anger. It is always first and foremost the work and its benefit to patients that should be your focus.”

None of his research would have been possible, he said, without help from numerous close associates, including his spouse, Joanna M. Heal, MBBS, retired physician at the American Red Cross and UR Medicine’s Hematology/Oncology unit; the technical staff and attending physicians in the Transfusion Medicine service at Strong Memorial Hospital; the nursing staff at Wilmot Cancer Institute and Strong Memorial; and several faculty from Pediatric Surgery, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, and from Wilmot.

The AABB will feature Blumberg as a keynote speaker at its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, where the Hall of Fame induction takes place.

- Leslie Orr

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