Up to the year 1919, after twenty years of work on pathological anatomy, Landsteiner with a number of collaborators had published many papers on his findings in morbid anatomy and on immunology. He discovered new facts about the immunology of syphilis, added to the knowledge of the Wassermann reaction, and discovered the immunological factors which he named haptens (it then became clear that the active substances in the extracts of normal organs used in this reaction were, in fact, haptens). He made fundamental contributions to our knowledge of paroxysmal haemoglobinuria.
He also showed that the cause of poliomyelitis could be transmitted to monkeys by injecting into them material prepared by grinding up the spinal cords of children who had died from this disease, and, lacking in Vienna monkeys for further experiments, he went to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where monkeys were available. His work there, together with that independently done by Flexner and Lewis, laid the foundations of our knowledge of the cause and immunology of poliomyelitis.
Landsteiner made numerous contributions to both pathological anatomy, histology and immunology, all of which showed, not only his meticulous care in observation and description, but also his biological understanding. But his name will no doubt always be honoured for his discovery in 1901 of, and outstanding work on, the blood groups, for which he was given the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1930.
In 1875 Landois had reported that, when man is given transfusions of the blood of other animals, these foreign blood corpuscles are clumped and broken up in the blood vessels of man with the liberation of haemoglobin. In 1901-1903 Landsteiner pointed out that a similar reaction may occur when the blood of one human individual is transfused, not with the blood of another animal, but with that of another human being, and that this might be the cause of shock, jaundice, and haemoglobinuria that had followed some earlier attempts at blood transfusions.
His suggestions, however, received little attention until, in 1909, he classified the bloods of human beings into the now well-known A, B, AB, and O groups and showed that transfusions between individuals of groups A or B do not result in the destruction of new blood cells and that this catastrophe occurs only when a person is transfused with the blood of a person belonging to a different group. Earlier, in 1901-1903, Landsteiner had suggested that, because the characteristics which determine the blood groups are inherited, the blood groups may be used to decide instances of doubtful paternity. Much of the subsequent work that Landsteiner and his pupils did on blood groups and the immunological uses they made of them was done, not in
To the end of his life, Landsteiner continued to investigate blood groups and the chemistry of antigens, antibodies and other immunological factors that occur in the blood. It was one of his great merits that he introduced chemistry into the service of serology.
Rigorously exacting in the demands he made upon himself, Landsteiner possessed untiring energy. Throughout his life he was always making observations in many fields other than those in which his main work was done (he was, for instance, responsible for having introduced dark-field illumination in the study of spirochaetes). By nature somewhat pessimistic, he preferred to live away from people.
Landsteiner married Helen Wlasto in 1916. Dr. E. Landsteiner is a son by this marriage.
In 1939 he became Emeritus Professor at the Rockefeller Institute, but continued to work as energetically as before, keeping eagerly in touch with the progress of science. It is characteristic of him that he died pipette in hand. On June 24, 1943, he had a heart attack in his laboratory and died two days later in the hospital of the Institute in which he had done such distinguished work.
From Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941, Elsevier Publishing Company,