Getting blood drawn is a relatively common component of routine medical checkups. This sometimes dreaded but necessary procedure is an important part of hematology. What is hematology, and why is its impact on an individual’s health so strong?
Hematology is the scientific study of blood and blood cells. Its main goal is to analyze a person’s blood to spot discrepancies in overall blood cell distribution and cell structure. These discrepancies may be associated with a host of blood-based diseases, such as anemia, hemophilia and leukemia.
Scientists engaging in hematology are called hematologists. In addition to analyzing and detecting blood-related issues, they can also help to treat discovered conditions. Practitioners learn about and develop skills pertaining to the field by successfully completing a medical laboratory science, or MLS, curriculum. This coursework not only equips students with the tools needed for the scientific process, but it can also provide them with the peripheral tools needed for success in a medical environment, such as working in medical teams or keeping abreast of changing needs in the discipline.
The History of Hematology
What is hematology? To adequately answer that question, one must take a look at the historical roots of hematology. While evidence of naked-eye blood analysis dates back to ancient times, the roots of modern hematology trace to 1674, when Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek first discovered and detailed blood cells through a microscope.
Van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery laid the foundation to improve the practice of blood transfusion which falls in the area of immunohematology. The first successful human blood transfusion occurred in 1667; however, that process entailed the use of blood drawn from a sheep. The first human-to-human blood transfusion occurred under the watch of British physician James Blundell in 1818, but it remained a relatively unsafe practice until 1901. That was the year Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner discovered blood groups A, B and O; he would go on to explain the principles of ABO compatibility. This important component of immunohematology hit its stride during World War II, when it was used to save many soldiers’ lives.
Hematology in the Modern World
The observational roots of blood-related research provide the backbone of hematology’s core. The analytical approach to observing blood on a cellular level and having the capacity to pinpoint anomalies are the first steps toward the contemporary treatment of diseases that would have been impossible to care for at the practice’s outset. The approach can also lead to finding undiscovered ailments and making treatment breakthroughs.
Hematologists stand at the forefront of treatment for a variety of diseases and issues, including the following examples:
- Sickle cell disease
- Bleeding disorders
- Bone marrow and stem cell transplantation
- Malignant lymphomas
As advances in medicine have translated into a larger population of older people, the role of the hematologist has become increasingly important. An older society is projected to correlate to a natural increase in medical conditions requiring ongoing diagnostic tests, including blood work. This increased need for blood work is consistent with a potential growth in the demand for hematologists.
In addition to bracing for an influx of older patients, hematologists must also keep abreast of technological trends occurring in the lab. This could include learning how to work with evolving sophisticated lab equipment, as well as learning how to interpret the data these devices create. Hematologists’ ability to adapt to a lab’s advances could ultimately lead to improved patient outcomes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a projected 13 percent growth in the field of medical and laboratory scientists, the overarching scientific field that includes hematologists.
Drawing blood may be the most visible aspect of hematology from a patient’s perspective, but the work that happens after the blood is collected is the true soul of the hematologist profession. The ability to analyze, determine and ultimately help treat disorders steers the field of hematology toward a path that can improve patient outcomes. As the population ages and the need for blood work increases, this goal of improved patient health through hematology seems more important than ever.
The University of Cincinnati’s online Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science program is designed for medical laboratory technicians who are currently working in the field. Our online MLS program combines the quality and high standards of UC’s campus-based program with the flexibility and convenience of state-of-the-art distance learning. It is a smart choice for busy professionals who want to advance their education while also continuing to meet personal and professional responsibilities.
University of Cincinnati
American Society of Hematology
Annals of Clinical & Laboratory Science
News Medical Life Sciences, What Is Hematology?
New England Journal of Medicine
News Medical Life Sciences, History of Blood Transfusion
Bureau of Labor Statistics