Science for the wounded
The work of Dr. Armand Frappier
At the outbreak of World War II, Canada intended to set up its military medical services to anticipate the numerous injured servicemen soon-to-come from war zones. As large blood supplies were going to be needed, The National Research Council of Canada set up research committees on blood preservation and storage and also on blood substitutes in order to determine which strategy was best for the country.
Late in 1940, Canadian authorities chose to produce normal human serum, a blood derived substitute, according to the experiments led by Dr. C. H. Best at the University of Toronto.
Since a lot of blood was required for its preparation, they organized the first national blood donation program. Specialized clinics were developed by the Canadian Red Cross Society, which took charge of blood donations across the country. These were made on a voluntary basis and without any compensation. Blood donations were then sent to Toronto to be processed and transformed into liquid and dried human serum by the Connaught Laboratories. Afterward the serum was forwarded to the battlefronts for the benefit of the Canadian and Allied soldiers.
It was not long before authorities realized that government-subsidized laboratories in Toronto would not be able to cope with the surge in blood donations. Thus emerged the prospect of another blood processing centre. According to the Red Cross and some of its committees, including the Blood Donor Service Committee, establishing this service in the eastern part of Canada was a wise decision to handle blood donations from this part of the country. The Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene of the University of Montreal thus became the perfect candidate.
Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene of the University of Montreal
According to Dr. Frappier the young Institute of Microbiology was about to play a major part in Canada’s war effort. Indeed, the Institute already had many benefits on its side, such as the expertise from Dr. Frappier and his colleagues, all the research they conducted especially on the BCG vaccine, the trust and research grants they received from the National Research Council of Canada, and also the support from the University of Montreal which accommodated the new laboratories of the Institute of Microbiology. All of these assets proved to be decisive for the patriotic involvement of the Institute.
From the end of 1941, the Canadian Red Cross Society advised the federal government to allow the opening of a second Canadian centre to process blood in order to avoid a shortage of serum and also to relieve the Connaught Laboratories of Toronto, which were then processing all blood donations in Canada. Moreover, a processing centre in the eastern part of the country could be, at that time, in charge of collecting blood donations coming from the Province of Quebec and the Maritimes. For the Canadian Red Cross, this centre could only be the Institute of Microbiology as it had all technical conveniences as well as a strategic geographical position.
But they had to wait for another year and for the intercession of the former Prime Minister of Canada, Richard Bedford Bennett, before the Department of Pensions and National Health could authorize a second centre to process blood for the soldiers’ needs. The Connaught Laboratories also gave the Institute of Microbiology some technical and practical help. Afterwards, the Montreal Institute first began to separate serum from blood in October 1943, before taking care of the whole process up to the desiccation of the serum later on, as it was done in Toronto. The production of dried human serum only began in March 1944 due to long delays with the shipping of the laboratory equipment, which caused increasing costs. Dried serum was all ready to be dispatched by September 1944.