“Science cannot be stopped. Man will gather knowledge no matter what the consequences — and we cannot predict what they will be. Science will go on — whether we are pessimistic, or are optimistic, as I am. I know that great, interesting, and valuable discoveries can be made and will be made…But I know also that still more interesting discoveries will be made that I have not the imagination to describe — and I am awaiting them, full of curiosity and enthusiasm.”
Linus Pauling, October 15, 1947.
After developing a promising blood plasma substitute during World War II, Pauling found his funding cut and his contract with the Office of Scientific Research and Defense coming to an end. Rather than abandon the project, the Caltech researchers chose to forge ahead.
Frustrated with the lack of progress, Pauling and his team scraped together enough residual funds to allow for one more series of experiments. Pauling began injecting mice and rabbits with his synthetic plasma, carefully monitoring their health and examining blood samples to determine the effects of the treatment. The results were satisfactory but not enough to put the project back in the good graces of the Committee on Medical Research. Pauling knew that the only way to stimulate interest (and funding) for the project was to prove that his substance could be used in humans. In September of 1944, twelve patients at Los Angeles General Hospital were injected with Oxypolygelatin, all exhibiting favorable reactions. Pauling had the results he needed.
In a final effort to save the project, Pauling submitted one last application, noting the success of his experiments with both animal and human patients. To aid his cause, Pauling attempted to find support at the source, sending individual letters to key members of the CMR.
In October of 1944, the CMR responded to his requests for aid, providing a $10,000, nine-month grant. The CMR had previously assured Pauling that the Committee would arrange any necessary physiological tests that could not be completed at Caltech and, upon the renewal of the Oxypolygelatin contract, they reaffirmed this promise.
While Pauling waited for the CMR to complete arrangements for testing, he and his team continued to refine the production process, ironing out wrinkles that had developed in the course of frantic experimentation. During the early months of the Oxypolygelatin program, Pauling had corresponded often with Robert Loeb, a researcher at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. In a 1943 letter to Loeb he wrote,
It looks as though our method of preparation is not well enough standardized to give a uniform product – the osmotic pressure varies from preparation to preparation. With some evidence from the ultracentrifuge as to how the distribution in molecular weight is changing, we should be able to improve the method.
The lack of uniformity in the substance was a problem for Pauling and his team. In order to locate the irregularities, the researchers needed results from a series of physiological tests. Unfortunately, the CMR had yet to arrange for the promised tests and Pauling’s grant was about to expire.
By the spring of 1945, Pauling had virtually given up on the project. He had resigned his post as responsible investigator and allowed Campbell to take his place. With the rest of Caltech still knee deep in war research, Pauling had no trouble finding other projects to attract his attention. As a result, his Oxypolygelatin work was relegated to correspondence with gelatin manufacturers and a few curious scientists. In a letter to Chester Keefer of the Committee on Medical Research, Pauling stated,
I feel that the development of Oxypolygelatin has been delayed by a full twelve months by the failure of the CMR to arrange for the physiological testing of the preparation, despite the assurances to me, beginning July 24, 1943, that this testing would be carried out under CMR arrangement. I feel that I myself am also to blame, for having continued to rely upon the CMR, long after it should have been clear to me that the promised action was not being taken and presumably would not be taken.
The project was dead. The CMR had lost interest and no lab in the country was either willing to or capable of performing the tests Pauling required. Even worse for the project, Germany was on the brink of surrender and Japan was losing ground in the Pacific; the war would be over soon and with victory would come the closure of war research programs all over the country.
The team quietly disbanded, each member returning to old projects or starting up fresh lines of research. In 1946, Pauling, Koepfli and Campbell filed for a patent for Oxypolygelatin and its manufacturing process which they immediately transferred to the California Institute Research Foundation.
In 1947, the American Association of Blood Banks was founded and in 1948 the American National Red Cross began widespread blood donation campaigns. The genesis of the two programs allowed for large supplies of fresh blood to be dispersed throughout U.S. hospitals on a regular basis, virtually eliminating the need for a plasma substitute during peacetime.
While Pauling was the source of many scientific breakthroughs during his career, in the end Oxypolygelatin was a failed project. Over the following years, he would occasionally discuss his blood plasma work with an interested scientist or mention it at a symposium address, but he never returned to the Oxypolygelatin problem.
For more information on Pauling’s Oxypolygelatin research, read his 1949 project report or view this 1974 letter regarding the development of Oxypolygelatin production in China. For additional Pauling content, visit Linus Pauling: It’s in the Blood! or the Linus Pauling Online portal.
Filed under: Hemoglobin & Sickle Cell Anemia, Scientific War Work Tagged: | blood plasma substitute, Chester Keefer, Committee on Medical Research, Dan Campbell, Joseph Koepfli, Linus Pauling, Office of Scientific Research and Development, oxypolygelatin, Robert Loeb, scientific war work, World War II