Alexander Solomon Wiener ( March 16, 1907, Brooklyn, New York – November 6, 1976, New York City ), a lifelong resident of New York City, was recognized internationally for his contributions to medicine. He was an outstanding leader in the fields of forensic medicine, serology, and immunogenetics. His pioneer work led to discovery of the Rh factor in 1937, along with Dr. Karl Landsteiner, and subsequently to the development of exchange transfusion methods that saved the lives of countless infants with hemolytic disease of the newborn. He received a Lasker Award for his achievement in 1946.
When Wiener and Landsteiner discovered the Rh factor in 1937 (named after the Rhesus monkeys used as test subjects), they did not immediately realize its significance. It was seen as yet another factor, not much different from the M, N, or P factors–useful for “fingerprinting,” but not having much more extended implications. However, Wiener soon realized that the new blood factor they had discovered was associated with problems in blood transfusions. Although the first time Rh positive blood is transfused into someone with Rh negative blood, it may not cause any harm, it does cause the creation of antibodies which make a second such transfusion very dangerous. By the time he and Dr. Landsteiner published in 1940, Wiener was able to demonstrate the role of Rh sensitization as a cause of intragroup hemalytic reactions, thus increasing the safety of blood transfusions.
Also, in conjunction with Phillip Levine’s separate work which helped identify the Rh factor as a major cause of erythroblastosis fetalis, or Rh disease, he was able to help solve a major cause of infant fatality. Dr. Wiener created the first medical procedure to combat the problem, which he called an exchange transfusion. It consisted of a complete blood transfusion for the affected baby. The method was further refined by Harry Wallerstein, a transfusionist.
Since then, less extreme methods have been found to deal with erythroblastosis fetalis. However, at the time, the procedure was able to save over 200,000 lives.