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Indiana University School of Medicine

The Collection

The Ruth Lilly Medical Library History of Medicine Special Collection, though modest in its approximately 3500 items, includes several books of significant historical value: American Revolutionary War, early American surgery, editions of Renaissance medicine and European science, anatomical and medical plates of quality, colored botanicals, uncommon signatures by leading practitioners and, correspondence related to the unfortunate outcomes of mid-19th century tuberculosis. Items in this collection considered important assets to scholarship and furthering an understanding of the history of medicine, as printed, practiced and experienced, including books published as early as 1542. The collection contains bindings in a variety of materials and styles, a full range of sizes and quality, printed in Latin, English, German, and French.

The opportunities for study and research are diverse; the material is well suited for deeper mapping, can act as an enhancement to the scientific element of medical practice. To handle a first edition of America’s first systematic text on surgery or, to examine the highest quality reproductions of Vesalius prints no longer available increases one’s appreciation, can be said to induce shivers of awe and inspiration. In an ever-increasing age of technological development, steeping oneself in an object from a previous century, signed by an important figure, can be a touchstone to our cultural heritage. Some of the more interesting and finer objects can be found in the abbreviated catalog of the collection.

Visit the collection on the third floor of the Ruth Lilly Medical Library, room 307. After a generous gift in May of 2015, the room was named for Leo J. McCarthy, MD. The room is open for study Monday through Friday, 10 am until 2 pm; special hours may be scheduled by emailing

Special Collection


In medicine is a desire to always look forward, a push to constantly advance. To do so, casting a glance back is invaluable. For Leo J. McCarthy, MD, FRCP (Edin/Ire), this is what fuels a passion for the history of medicine. In May 2015, McCarthy made a generous gift to establish an endowed lectureship on the history of medicine at IU School of Medicine. The lectureship brings experts to this school to address topics that enlighten and educate students and faculty and instills an awareness of the evolution of their profession. The IU School of Medicine and the Ruth Lilly Medical Library deeply appreciate McCarthy’s vision, passion and support to make this lectureship possible now and in the future.

History of Transfusion Medicine

The origins of blood transfusion are lost in the myths of antiquity, but the existence of the A and B antigens in nature provide the basis for crucial serologic testing. Leeching was known to the ancient Egyptians in 3000 BC and was mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit in 1500 BC as noted by Alexander the Great. It was Galen (131 AD -ca 201 AD), the physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who popularized the concept of blood circulation which was subsequently disproven by William Harvey, 1628 AD. Galen popularized the humoral theory which, also was embraced by Hippocrates (470 BC-410 BC) but probably originated with Empedocles or Pythagoras. Subsequently bloodletting by cupping, phlegms and barber-surgeons attempted to release “bad blood” (bad humors) and thus reestablish the correct humoral balance which was equated with good health.

The World Wars created an extraordinary demand for blood transfusion, and the Allied Forces were aided by a well-organized blood supply. Edwin Cohn, MD, and Charles Drew, MD, revolutionized the procurement and distribution of plasma and blood respectively. The technique of drawing and safely transfusing blood had given rise to establishing blood centers, hospital transfusion services, solid organ transplantation, bone marrow transplantation, frozen blood, paternity testing, plasma fractionalization, ameliorating Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn (RH disease), autosalvage, component therapy, viral testing (hepatitis B and C, HIV), apheresis, and effective therapies for hemophilia, etc. Therefore from its humble, obscure roots of origins, the tree of transfusion medicine continues to grow and blossom and the historical timeline expands further and further into the future increasing applications with relevance to modern medicine.

About the Donors

Leo J McCarthy, MD, Professor Emeritus of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, was the Director of Transfusion Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine for three decades. In 1991, he became a Fellow in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, which was established in 1654, and in 1994 he became a fellow in the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Dr. McCarthy created and endowed the annual Leo J. McCarthy, MD Lectureship in Transfusion Medicine in 1997 at IU School of Medicine, where he also established an accredited fellowship in Transfusion Medicine in collaboration with the Indiana Blood Center. At the 1997 Indiana Association of Blood Banks he received the Victor H. Muller Award to acknowledge his contributions to transfusion medicine, blood banking, and transfusion services.

In 2000 Dr. McCarthy became an alumnus member of the Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Medical Honor Society Nebraska Chapter. He was honored in 2001 with the IUPUI campus-wide Glenn W. Irwin, JR, MD Excellence Recognition Award. In 2002 he received the John Elliot Memorial Award that recognizes an individual for outstanding service to the American Association of Blood Banks, an international not-for-profit association dedicated to the advancement of science and the practice of transfusion medicine. One year later in recognition of his mastery of and passion for transfusion medicine, he became a Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana’s highest award by the Governor.

Dr. McCarthy retired in 2003 but has remained actively involved in his lectureship and other presentations. In 2007, he was an invited speaker and Educational Chair at the 18th Regional Congress of the ISBT, Asia in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he presented an update on evidence-based transfusion medicine. As part of that presentation, he included an original graphic on “The Origins of Evidence Based Medicine” (graphic updated June 2013) that was also part of a subsequently published paper (ISBT Science Series 2007; 2(2):35-40).

In April 2013, he was the guest speaker at the University of Nebraska’s annual Richard B. Davis History of Medicine Lecture where he presented “A Brief and Necessarily Incomplete Overview of Blood Transfusion Throughout the Ages.”

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Feel free to explore our medical history resources. If you have any questions or need assistance, please contact us. Our medical library liaisons and staff are here to guide you through this process.