The world’s first artificial blood cell

Like many driven young men, Thomas Chang would bring his work home with him. His work was his mission to create the world’s first artificial blood cell, and as an undergraduate student in 1956, his home was a residence room in McGill’s Douglas Hall.

Remarkably, working with improvised materials like perfume atomizers, Chang managed to create a permeable plastic sack that could carry hemoglobin almost as effectively as a natural blood cell. In 1989, the New Scientist called Chang’s student research project an “elegantly simple and intellectually ambitious” idea that “has grown into a dynamic field of biomedical research and development.”

Chang’s remarkable career continued as Director of the Artificial Cells and Organs Research Centre at McGill. In the late 1960s, he discovered that enzymes carried by artificial cells could correct certain metabolic disorders. He also developed charcoal-filled cells to treat drug poisoning, a technique that’s widely used today. His work on finding a safe blood substitute brought him to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, earning him induction into the Order of Canada and two Nobel Prize nominations.