Jul 31, 2013

Blood

From medicine to the movies, the horrifying to the holy, and history to the present day -- we're kinda obsessed with blood. This hour, we consider the power and magic of the red liquid that runs through our veins.

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Speaker 3:

Wait, wait. You're ...

 

Speaker 4:

Okay.

 

Speaker 3:

All right.

 

Speaker 4:

Okay.

 

Speaker 3:

All right.

 

Speaker 4:

You're ...

 

Speaker 3:

Listening ...

 

Speaker 4:

To Radiolab.

 

Speaker 5:

Radiolab.

 

Speaker 4:

From ...

 

Speaker 3:

WNY ...

 

Speaker 6:

C.

 

Speaker 7:

C.

 

Speaker 3:

Yeah.

 

Speaker 4:

And NPR.

 

Christien T.:

So this is a blood that's made in Europe that I really enjoy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Christien Tinsley. He's a bloodsmith.

 

Christien T.:

It's ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Like a fine wine.

 

Christien T.:

It is like a fine wine. I found this blood, and I used it on the film Passion of the Christ. And I loved the color of it and the consistency of it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What's it called, by the way? What's [crosstalk 00:01:19]

 

Christien T.:

Well, this one is called Bloody Real Blood. Bloody Real Blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That is not the most imaginative title.

 

Christien T.:

But they don't get creative.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Bloody Real Blood.

 

Christien T.:

We have another one ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

Christien pulled out a few more.

 

Christien T.:

For example, you got a couple bottles right here.

 

Robert Krulwich:

By the way, we visited him in his special effects warehouse.

 

Christien T.:

Right here in Hollywood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What are these right here?

 

Christien T.:

This one right here is called Dried Blood Dark.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Pretty self-explanatory.

 

Christien T.:

And then we have one that's called Drying Blood Fresh. And this is made by a completely different company. They all have their advantages. Some are really good at color and flow consistency. There's different viscosities in the blood. And ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

We went through all of it with Christien, how sometimes you want to make the blood a little ...

 

Christien T.:

Thicker, so it flows out of the skin a little bit slower.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Sometimes you need it to splash around, or sometimes you need ...

 

Christien T.:

More opaque blood, black blood, clear blood, green blood, vibrant blood, dark blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Do they have catalogs?

 

Christien T.:

There are catalogs for blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And how ... You know if you can't find what you need in a catalog, you can take someone else's blood and tweak it.

 

Christien T.:

We might throw a material called Methocel into it. It's a thickening agent, very similar to what they use in jelly donuts. We use silicas.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And at a certain point, as we were talking through all this stuff, it just felt like we weren't even talking about blood anymore.

 

Christien T.:

Everything is synthetic.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's just a bunch of chemicals that had nothing to do with the inside of a human body.

 

Christien T.:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But then, a funny thing happened.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now when would you use say, the condom full of blood here?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Christien had walked us over to a table where he laid out a bunch of his tools.

 

Jad Abumrad:

When would that come [crosstalk 00:02:45]?

 

Christien T.:

Well, yeah. What you're seeing here is you're seeing a table full of tricks. We have the bladder on the knife.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And he showed us this trick knife. Super dull, but on the back of it, it had this little tube.

 

Christien T.:

And the tube runs along the back end and around the edge of the knife.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hidden from view. And how the trick works is you make like you're slashing someone, and right at that moment, you squeeze this little syringe full of fake blood that then goes through the tube and onto the blade of the knife. And I must say, it's the chintziest trick I've ever seen.

 

Christien T.:

But it's a classic approach. Somebody gets cut on film, you're doing ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

But I thought, "Let's just try it."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Can I ...

 

Christien T.:

A surgery scene, where ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

Can I slice Robert across the face?

 

Christien T.:

You certainly can. So what we'll do ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

So he fills the syringe with Bloody Real Blood. I get in position, holding the knife.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's not because I hate you right now.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's because we're doing a ritual. We're going to be blood brothers. Okay, ready? Here we go. One, two, three.

 

Christien T.:

We got the camera?

 

Ellen:

Wait, wait.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And this is the fakest trick I have ever seen. I think I've said that already, but it's worth repeating. It's so fake. And yet ...

 

Christien T.:

There we go. Give it a good steady squeeze. Okay?

 

Jad Abumrad:

When the Bloody Real Blood comes out ...

 

Christien T.:

And that's basically ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, that was thrilling and terrifying. I feel ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

And I was like, "Why am I getting woozy?"

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh my god. My hand is shaking.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Did you feel anything?

 

Ellen:

I feel light-headed when I see it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Ellen, too.

 

Ellen:

I guess you can't be very ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. Now I really am feeling lightheaded. That ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

I actually had to sit down.

 

Ellen:

Reactive to ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh wow.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh my god.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It really looked real.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And it was whatever, but it just didn't make any sense.

 

Christien T.:

If we want a continuous flow of blood, what we might do is we might just do a slow release. And the blood is continuously flowing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Today on Radiolab ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Continuously flowing information about ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

Blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Real. Bloody Real Blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Royal blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Bad blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Young blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And blood money.

 

Speaker 11:

You know, it's business.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab. Let's get bloody.

 

Speaker 12:

(Singing)

 

Barton Benes:

I never thought I would become a terrorist. That's what I became. That's what they call me.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So we're going to start with a story about that guy you just heard.

 

Robert Krulwich:

His name was Barton Benes. He was an artist working in New York in the West Village in Manhattan in the '70s, '80s, and early '90s. Pretty successful.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And famously social.

 

Joe Lovett:

Oh my god.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Not by any means your normal terrorist.

 

Joe Lovett:

I mean, he was just the most charming, welcoming, open, beguiling person you could possibly imagine.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Although, given the story we're about to tell, he was also a bit of a prankster.

 

Barton Benes:

I deal with fear, people's fears.

 

Joe Lovett:

And he was nuts, which was a lot of fun.

 

Barton Benes:

And by the way, that is Barton's best friend, Joe.

 

Joe Lovett:

Joe Lovett, director and producer. We were very, very close friends. We talked almost every day.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Joe says they actually began most days by calling each other up and hurling insults.

 

Joe Lovett:

Until we were laughing hysterically.

 

Barton Benes:

You going?

 

Joe Lovett:

Yeah.

 

Barton Benes:

Really?

 

Joe Lovett:

Really.

 

Barton Benes:

Am I that lucky?

 

Robert Krulwich:

The basis of Barton's art was stuff. He would find stuff, and then describe it or mount it. Actually, he had an enormous collection of stuff in his apartment.

 

Barton Benes:

Hey, welcome to the catacombs. My 10-room mansion. This is the cabinet of curiosities.

 

Joe Lovett:

It was a magnificent place. I did a film on it, actually. When you walk into it ...

 

Barton Benes:

My African collections.

 

Joe Lovett:

It was filled with drawers of spiders.

 

Barton Benes:

A bowl from Pamplona.

 

Joe Lovett:

Voodoo totems.

 

Barton Benes:

I even have an outhouse here.

 

Joe Lovett:

Desiccated animals, beaded pieces of bears and wolves and birds.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In one drawer, he had human ashes. In another ...

 

Joe Lovett:

And ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Vat from a liposuction.

 

Joe Lovett:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Old poop.

 

Barton Benes:

25 million year old feces, fossilized.

 

Laurel Reuter:

I mean, anything he could find that was weird.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's Laurel Reuter, one of Barton's friends.

 

Laurel Reuter:

That was taboo.

 

Robert Krulwich:

For example, in another cabinet he had Adolf Hitler's teaspoon.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A severed human toe.

 

Joe Lovett:

Someone had been walking across ... It was either Brooklyn or the Williamsburg Bridge.

 

Barton Benes:

And he called me up and he said, "I found a toe."

 

Joe Lovett:

And they thought, "Well, Barton would be the person to give it to."

 

Laurel Reuter:

He mummified it and kept it.

 

Barton Benes:

People do bring you things.

 

Joe Lovett:

Oh, people sent him Madonna's underpants.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What?

 

Joe Lovett:

Yes. People sent him Nancy Reagan's lipstick on a napkin from Texas, I think. Somebody sent him Sylvester Stallone's urine.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Ooh.

 

Robert Krulwich:

How did they collect that?

 

Joe Lovett:

They cared so much about Barton that when Stallone peed in this urinal in a restaurant and didn't flush, they went and got it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And although his apartment was filled with very different taboo, button-pushing, weirdness that you could imagine ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

The one area he didn't touch, at least not at first was the thing that haunted his life the most.

 

Barton Benes:

I never knew what to do about AIDS. It was a hard subject for me. I was positive and my boyfriend had died, and it was something I couldn't deal with. I couldn't make art about it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

But then one day ...

 

Laurel Reuter:

One day, he was in his kitchen cooking. He was a good cook, and he always cooked when we came to visit.

 

Barton Benes:

I was in the kitchen cutting parsley, and I cut a piece of my finger.

 

Laurel Reuter:

He cut himself.

 

Barton Benes:

And blood went all over the kitchen.

 

Laurel Reuter:

And he went into this huge panic.

 

Barton Benes:

And I was so freaked out.

 

Robert Krulwich:

The story goes Barton immediately thought ...

 

Laurel Reuter:

Oh my god, I'm going to get AIDS.

 

Robert Krulwich:

But then in the next blink, he thought, "Well wait a second."

 

Laurel Reuter:

Oh, I already have it. It's my own blood. It can't hurt me.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait, what?

 

Joe Lovett:

He forgot that he had it himself.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But wait. I don't understand that, though. So he had AIDS.

 

Joe Lovett:

Oh yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

He knew he had AIDS.

 

Joe Lovett:

Oh yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Still, the sight of his own HIV-infected blood, his own blood, was so viscerally terrifying to him that he ran out of the room.

 

Barton Benes:

I went and got rubber gloves and bleach. And I thought, "This is nuts. This is my blood. My kitchen." And I'm going through all this craziness. And that's when I thought, "If I have this fear, you can imagine what other ... The fear that other people have."

 

Joe Lovett:

This is the very, very beginning of the epidemic. In the early days, we were just talking about this last night, as a matter of fact ... We had a friend who was hospitalized at New York Hospital. They left his tray at the door. The medical people wouldn't go in.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They were scared to go in?

 

Joe Lovett:

Terrified. Everybody was terrified.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And I remember they used to have these things on the door. Beware.

 

Joe Lovett:

It's contaminated.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Because of the blood.

 

Joe Lovett:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's hard to overstate just how frightening blood was in this moment.

 

Joe Lovett:

Nobody knew what anything was going on. There were conspiracy theories. There were thoughts that people were being poisoned.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All anyone knew was that people were dying, and it was because of something in the blood.

 

Joe Lovett:

You'd hear about it happening to someone, and then you'd hear about it happening to a friend of a friend. And then it would happen to a friend, and then it was your best friend. And then it was your other best friend, and your other best friend, and your other best friend. Unbelievable. We must have lost easily half of our gay friends. Easily half.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So Barton ...

 

Barton Benes:

I never knew what to do about AIDS. And it was something I couldn't deal with.

 

Jad Abumrad:

When he cuts his hand open in the kitchen, sees the blood, freaks out, and thinks, "Wow. There is a strange power to this blood." Just the sight of it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, he has an idea.

 

Barton Benes:

And I start making these weapons.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The idea sounded simple.

 

Joe Lovett:

A series of works called Lethal Weapons.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Except they weren't very lethal-looking.

 

Robert Krulwich:

He took a little toy gun.

 

Laurel Reuter:

A child squirt gun.

 

Robert Krulwich:

One of those candy yellow toy guns.

 

Laurel Reuter:

And he put his own blood inside of the squirt gun.

 

Joe Lovett:

He had pacifiers with blood. Baby pacifiers with blood. Nursing bottles with blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

One of those clown lapel flowers that squirt water. Well, his squirted blood.

 

Joe Lovett:

Atomizers, perfume atomizers with blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You can go ...

 

Joe Lovett:

Yep.

 

Jad Abumrad:

[inaudible 00:11:47].

 

Joe Lovett:

Exactly.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, you couldn't really squirt yourself with his HIV-infected blood, because the work was put in these glass boxes, but the invitation was clear. Squeeze me.

 

Barton Benes:

I deal with fear. People's fears.

 

Joe Lovett:

And this one is what he called a Poison Dart.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Joe has one of the Lethal Weapons in his living room.

 

Joe Lovett:

What it is, is it's a hypodermic needle.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Very thin and long.

 

Joe Lovett:

That had been filled up with his blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And then he put these delicate little ...

 

Joe Lovett:

Feathers from an African bird.

 

Jad Abumrad:

On the back of the needle to make it look like one of those poison darts from an old James Bond movie.

 

Joe Lovett:

Right.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So Barton initially shows the work to Laurel, who mounts an exhibition at her gallery in North Dakota. And then ...

 

Laurel Reuter:

Then the show, it was ... It went to Sweden.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And that's where things got interesting.

 

Inger Tornberg:

It was extraordinary.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's Inger Tornberg. She ran the gallery in Lund, in Sweden, where the Lethal Weapons landed. And she says within a day or two of the show opening ...

 

Inger Tornberg:

The authorities were here telling me to close the doors. By law.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They had to.

 

Inger Tornberg:

For the safety of people coming into the gallery. We felt ashamed.

 

Jad Abumrad:

She thought, "This is Lund. We're a University town. We should know better."

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, wait a second. Did you know for certainty that their fears were ridiculous?

 

Inger Tornberg:

No. I mean, HIV, the virus, doesn't go away that quickly. In the beginning, we were scared, but we can't avoid fear in the world.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So she told the authorities ...

 

Inger Tornberg:

Take it easy. Don't do anything.

 

Jad Abumrad:

No one's going to get hurt. The blood is behind glass.

 

Inger Tornberg:

But the other thing that happened is after the ban, flyers came out saying that we were selling HIV contaminated blood by the liter.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Whose flyers were these?

 

Inger Tornberg:

The morning and evening newspapers.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Inger Tornberg:

We didn't know where the information came from. Must have come from the health authority.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But suddenly, she says the whole town of Lund exploded. She had people coming into the gallery, yelling.

 

Inger Tornberg:

This is not art.

 

Jad Abumrad:

How dare you?

 

Inger Tornberg:

And you sell it for money? What is this? We were overwhelmed.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So they struck a deal with the health authorities.

 

Inger Tornberg:

A compromise.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They said, "All right. Here's what we'll do. We'll take the work, any of the work that sells, and we'll stick it in ..."

 

Inger Tornberg:

An oven. Heat all them up.

 

Robert Krulwich:

At 160 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours.

 

Inger Tornberg:

And thus kill everything possible.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's ... Can I just say that's awesome. That's ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Wouldn't you worry that the paper would curl? Or the glass would ...

 

Inger Tornberg:

Well, the plastic would melt in the oven.

 

Barton Benes:

Then each work had a certificate, saying it was safe to sell. I never thought I would become a terrorist. That's what I became. They called it the AIDS Horror Show.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right. So the interesting thing ... I don't know if you felt this way, is that over the last few decades, AIDS has become a little bit less horrible. Just a little.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yep.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So you'd think those Lethal Weapons pieces, like that poison dart that we saw in Joe's living room, that it would lose its punch a little bit.

 

Robert Krulwich:

After all these years.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, because that's what happens to a lot of political art. After you take it out of its moment, it just fizzles.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Right.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But weird that that doesn't happen with that piece.

 

Joe Lovett:

I still think it's an extremely powerful piece. And I think all those blood pieces are. They're really shocking. [crosstalk 00:15:31]

 

Jad Abumrad:

What's the power now?

 

Joe Lovett:

Well, I think blood is powerful. And so when you look at Barton's blood pieces, whether they're AIDS blood or not, they're still blood. It's tinkering with a life force.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I mean, he's right. You see that blood. That's a man's viscera. It's not just art. And that guy's gone, so it's ghostly in a way.

 

Laurel Reuter:

We had a wonderful goodbye.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's Laurel, again.

 

Laurel Reuter:

He said, "I'm dying, and I wish my friends would stop trying to manage it. They tell me I have to ... Can't drink, and I can't do this, and I can't do that." And someone sent him a scale because gained too much weight, and he was furious. And so I said, "Well, let's have a bottle of wine." And we drank a bottle that night, and we talked about everything, saying goodbye, but mostly laughing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Laurel says that even at the end, when he was in really bad shape ...

 

Laurel Reuter:

He was still like a little child. His point of view of the world was full of glee and delight.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And that's maybe the thing that sneaks up on you in the end, is that as you're looking at the blood, it's scary. And then suddenly, it's hilarious. You're like, "Oh, no, no, no. He's making a joke." But then it's also scary. It's a scary joke, but it's funny. And scary.

 

Robert Krulwich:

As if the thing that scares you most is also so absurdly frightening that you laugh at the same time.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. As Inger Tornberg put it, Barton had made himself ...

 

Inger Tornberg:

Skinless, in some way.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Inger Tornberg:

It's a very generous offer to anybody who is receptive enough to take it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So the man himself melts away. And all we've got left is a patch of his blood that says, "Boo," and, "Come laugh with me."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Before we go to break, big thanks to Kelsey Padgett for production help on that piece.

 

Speaker 17:

(Singing)

 

Chad:

This is Chad [Kaneky 00:17:53] calling you from my living room in Cincinnati, Ohio. Radiolab is support in part by the National Science Foundation, and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org. Thanks.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab. Today ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Blood.

 

Speaker 20:

(Singing)

 

Robert Krulwich:

One time, I was in the doctor's office and they were taking blood, and they gave me all of the vials to hold, thinking of course that I would be fine with it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is pre drawing blood? Or post?

 

Robert Krulwich:

This was as they were drawing blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, you were holding vials of your own blood as it was coming out of you?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes. They kept handing me the vials without capping them, and I fainted. So my hand flew up and all that blood and all ... It poured over my face and my shirt and my clothes. And when I came to, everyone was screaming, including half of the waiting room.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You were covered in your own blood?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Covered in blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Your whole shirt was soaked in blood?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's disgusting.

 

Robert Krulwich:

[crosstalk 00:20:38] undershirt, everything.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's disgusting.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, only disgusting because you think ... Because you're just ... We're all unfamiliar with blood, but back in the 1600s ...

 

James Shapiro:

Just part of life. For Shakespeare, blood was blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

This is James Shapiro, Shakespeare expert, friend of our show. And he says people back in Shakespeare's day were familiar with the sight of blood, the feel of blood, even ...

 

James Shapiro:

The smell of blood. What do I mean? Young Shakespeare, he's a kid.

 

Robert Krulwich:

He grew up in Stratford, and at 21 he went to London.

 

James Shapiro:

He came as an actor, and probably as the youngest actor in the company. What he was sent to do is to go to the shambles ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's a slaughterhouse.

 

James Shapiro:

Block and a half away, and get a bucket of blood, so that when they do the Spanish Tragedy or any other ... I mean, they're not using fake blood. They're using animal blood in all these plays.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Really?

 

James Shapiro:

Absolutely.

 

Robert Krulwich:

They didn't use fake blood?

 

James Shapiro:

No fake ... Why fake blood? How do you get fake blood? You got to make fake blood. He just walked two blocks on the way from where he lived to the theater. He's going to pass some kind of slaughtering area. I don't know how much it costs for a bucket of blood, but you need a bucket of blood for Titus Andronicus. You need a bucket of blood for Julius Caesar. In that play, Shakespeare has Mark Antony say, "I stand upon slippery ground." I mean, that stage is covered in blood. I mean, he's slipping in this blood. And all the men had just stooped and washed in Caesar's blood up to the elbows. So, there is blood in this play.

 

Robert Krulwich:

In all of the plays, the comedies, the romances, the histories, all of them.

 

James Shapiro:

I have some numbers for you that shocked me.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Numbers.

 

James Shapiro:

Numbers.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Numbers of what?

 

James Shapiro:

Numbers of references to blood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Really?

 

James Shapiro:

So, the word blood itself occurs 673 times in 571 speeches in 41 of Shakespeare's plays and poems, which means almost every play and poem.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Now, should I be impressed? Because does the word house appear nine thousand six hundred and ...

 

James Shapiro:

No.

 

Robert Krulwich:

No.

 

James Shapiro:

This is a big word. This is a word that recurs 37 times in King John.

 

Speaker 22:

March to the marketplace in Frenchmen's blood.

 

Speaker 23:

Busty blood again, which we ...

 

Speaker 22:

Living blood doth in these temples beat.

 

James Shapiro:

28 times in Richard III.

 

Speaker 24:

One raised in blood, and one in blood ...

 

Speaker 25:

In that congealed mouths and bleed ...

 

Speaker 26:

... of that royal blood.

 

James Shapiro:

22 times in Henry IV Part One.

 

Speaker 27:

... Lips with her own children's blood.

 

James Shapiro:

It means a lot of different things. It means I'm of good blood, I'm of high social station.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And of course, there was bad blood or cursed blood or being hot-blooded or cold-blooded.

 

James Shapiro:

And sometimes, as in Macbeth, it just means blood.

 

Speaker 28:

Blood will have blood. I am in blood stepped in so far ... [crosstalk 00:23:22] blood is stopped, the very source of ... The handsome places were all badged with blood. His silver skin laced with his golden blood.

 

James Shapiro:

He's wading. He feels he is wading in blood. Just think of that for a moment, how horrible the experience must be. Think of stepping into the ocean, and it's blood. Thick, smelly, horrible to the touch. That is what Macbeth feels when he feels guilty. For most of us, this is just a metaphor. What I'm trying to say is for this culture, blood was more than a metaphor.

 

James Shapiro:

So I have here one of his first poems, the Rape of Lucrece.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Lucrece is the good wife of a very honorable man. She's raped by this son of a tyrant. He comes from a ruling family, the Tarquins, so he thinks he can get away with this.

 

James Shapiro:

But Lucrece takes a knife at the end of this poem, and stabs herself. So this is what happens. The murderous knife, as it left the place, her blood in poor revenge, held it in chase, which means the blood followed the knife out as she stabbed herself. And bubbling from her breast, it doth divide in two slow rivers, that the crimson blood circles her body in on every side. That's a lot of blood. Some of the blood, still pure and red remained, and some looked black, and that false Tarquin stained. So we're beginning to see that two kinds of blood are flowing out her. And that false Tarquin stain ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

James Shapiro:

Because ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's the raping. That's the ...

 

James Shapiro:

Tarquin is the guy who raped her, and from that rape, her blood got polluted.

 

Robert Krulwich:

She now has two pools of blood. His, dark and dangerous, hers red and pure. And you can see this.

 

James Shapiro:

This is a culture that understood putrefied blood looked a little off, looked a little black. And this is ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

And this was meant to be thought of as literal, so that if you were raped, that's what ... Your blood would change color in part, in the bad part.

 

James Shapiro:

How do you prove intent in rape? If Tarquin's saying she wanted it, how would you know?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Would this be almost like forensic? Would this be the evidence?

 

James Shapiro:

Absolutely. This is evidence that proves that it was rape rather than anything consensual. You would know because she was raped, and the blood showed this to be tainted. For this culture ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Blood was the thing that makes you you.

 

James Shapiro:

Life, death, kinship ties, and what is within you, what circulates within you. Your character.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So blood was like essence.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right. Well, if Shakespeare saw blood as your essential nature, well this next story is about what happens when that idea collided with science.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Yeah. How are we doing?

 

Jad Abumrad:

And to sort through the debris of this collision ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

Talking, talking, talking.

 

Jad Abumrad:

We talked with science journalist ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

Okay. I'm Edward Dolnick, the author of the Clockwork Universe.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A great read that opens right where our story begins.

 

Edward Dolnick:

So it's 1660.

 

Jad Abumrad:

England.

 

Edward Dolnick:

It's Shakespeare's century. Isaac Newton is a brilliant young man, but nobody knows him yet. One of the big deals of this era is that science is just starting up.

 

Jad Abumrad:

People are just beginning to tinker and fiddle with nature. And in London, much of this tinkering went on in a rundown mansion.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Every third Wednesday, some schedule like that, you would see this strange collection of men.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Known as the Royal Society.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Coming in through the Royal Society quarters.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Were they like the National Science Foundation of their day? Or just a club?

 

Edward Dolnick:

Well, it starts out as a club, but what makes it a terrific club is that at the beginning, there are essentially no rules, so you have Christopher Wren and Robert Boyle, which is to say Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking. But next to them, you have some amateur violinist who's got a theory that if you tune the violin some goofy way, it would sound much better. And next to him is a man with a potato in the shape of a unicorn. They're all bringing these wonders. [inaudible 00:27:53] kind of thing. People were thrilled, at this time, with experiments in general. And it didn't have to be a lot. Lighting firecrackers and throwing ice in the fireplace to see if it cracks or make a big noise or pump out the air from under a jar and put a mouse in it to see what happens. Any kind of experiment that you can think of is going on because nobody knows how anything works. So almost every question you can think of was in some sense a question worth asking.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And one question which endlessly fascinated these guys, lucky for us, was a simple one. What is blood?

 

Edward Dolnick:

Because blood, in this era, is this astonishing substance. Everybody knew it was vitally important. Everybody had always known that, since the first person to stab somebody else, but nobody knew what made it important. Nobody knew what it did. And it also had this mysterious spiritual quality to it. In the same way that we have this notion of the brain and the mind, and they're different things, and one is physical and one is floating around in some more abstract way. The blood was this physical red stuff that dripped on your desk, but it also carried some soulful essence that marks you as you and me as me. But how do you get at that? This is an experimental question.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So here was the first experiment.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Question number one. What would happen ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

If you took a madman ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

This mad fellow ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

A guy who was prone ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

To fits, to carrying ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

And you took this guy and you filled him up with the blood of a sheep ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

And a sheep is famously docile, of course.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What would happen? Would that docile sheep blood get inside the madman and tame him?

 

Edward Dolnick:

Sooth his raging fits.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So the Royal Society ran some ads.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Can we find somebody to do this? We'll pay you a guinea, which is ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

A few bucks today.

 

Edward Dolnick:

That is to say worth having but not a fortune. And they're delighted to find this fellow, Koga. Arthur Koga, because he's like the Mad Hatter or something.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Like what we would, these days, call schizophrenic? Or I mean, was he crazy in that way or just eccentric?

 

Edward Dolnick:

The vocabulary is so different, it's hard to know, but he was in his day, or [inaudible 00:30:16] day one of those people you would edge away from who's ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

He's the guy on the subway.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Right.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In any case, on the day of the experiment, they bring Koga into the Royal Society and into the big theater there.

 

Edward Dolnick:

And it is a full room. There are wooden bleachers, and everyone's crowded together on those bleachers, jostling for position. The early comers get the best seats. In the front of the room is a little table, and the sheep is on that table.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They sit Koga right next to the sheep.

 

Edward Dolnick:

The sheep is tied down, and they cut a slit.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A tiny one, right across an artery in the sheep's neck.

 

Edward Dolnick:

And our man, Arthur Koga ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

They have him ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

Put his arm on the table, and they cut open a vein of his. Now, they take a skinny little metal tube, and they run it between the two.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So that blood goes from the sheep's neck into the man's arm and back. And then, they wait. And wait. And wait.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, how long would you think you have to wait for a madman to become sheep-like in his personality change?

 

Edward Dolnick:

Well, I guess they had waited for him to spring up from the table. And ... But there is no ba-ing. There is no sudden coming to his senses, but nobody drops dead. And that counts as a success.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And they thought, "Maybe we're just not getting at this the right way."

 

Edward Dolnick:

Maybe there's some other experiment that if we did it properly, we could find out the answer to this question. What is in the blood that makes each person special?

 

Jad Abumrad:

And in fact, around that time ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

The eminent scientist of the day, this great figure ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

A guy by the name of Robert Boyle.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Proposed 16 experiments that they ought to do.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, there are no records of the experimental results, but we can pretty much imagine how it went.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Number one, the blood of a cowardly dog.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Put that into a ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

Fierce dog.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Let's see if that makes the fierce dog ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

More tame. So they try that. And that doesn't work.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Well what if you took a dog that has a fabulous sense of smell, like a blood hound? And you put his blood into some ordinary dog who couldn't find his way home? Will that dog suddenly have a fabulous sense of smell?

 

Jad Abumrad:

And that ... No. [crosstalk 00:32:24]

 

Edward Dolnick:

No. That didn't work.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Fine.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Suppose you have a dog taught to fetch and carry, or to dive after ducks, and you put his blood into a common ignoramus dog who doesn't know anything? Will the simpleton dog suddenly be pointing out ducks to his master?

 

Jad Abumrad:

And no.

 

Edward Dolnick:

No. It turns out ... Boyle tries variation after variation of this, and to cut to the chase, none of them with any useful result.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And it was around this time, if you ask historians, that our general thinking about blood began to shift. We stopped seeing blood as this magical thing. There's no essence in there. It's just biology, really. Platelets, proteins, red blood cells. That's how we see blood now. And those experiments in 1666 ...

 

Edward Dolnick:

The experiments sound to us absolutely ludicrous.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Of course, they are.

 

Edward Dolnick:

Except they were on to something.

 

Saul Villeda:

She's transferring me, so that another one of her colleagues can also ...

 

Lynn Levy:

All right. Saul, can you hear me?

 

Saul Villeda:

Yeah, I can hear you.

 

Lynn Levy:

Sweet.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So recently, our producer Lynn Levy found out about some research, some new research that might make you think differently about those experiments back in 1666.

 

Lynn Levy:

Right. So I called up one of the researchers.

 

Saul Villeda:

So my name's Saul Villeda, and I'm a faculty fellow here at UCSF. So I just started my own lab.

 

Lynn Levy:

You have your own lab? Is it ... It's the Saul Lab?

 

Saul Villeda:

It's the Villeda Lab, yeah.

 

Lynn Levy:

You're still pretty young, right?

 

Saul Villeda:

Yeah. I'm 32.

 

Lynn Levy:

So Saul does experiments with mice.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay.

 

Lynn Levy:

And there's one thing that you need to know about mice, just to understand this whole thing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which is what?

 

Saul Villeda:

Mice really hate water.

 

Lynn Levy:

You throw them in the water ...

 

Saul Villeda:

They want to get out of there as fast as possible.

 

Lynn Levy:

See, there's a classic experiment that scientists have been doing for a while. There are a lot of variations. The idea is that you ...

 

Saul Villeda:

Take a big pool of water.

 

Lynn Levy:

And you build a maze in it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A water maze?

 

Lynn Levy:

It's like a mouse-sized maze.

 

Saul Villeda:

And then we actually put a platform in the pool.

 

Lynn Levy:

Somewhere under the water. The mouse can't see it, doesn't know it's there. If you were a mouse, and you stumble across this platform, you're like, "Oh, I can totally use this."

 

Saul Villeda:

To get out of the water.

 

Lynn Levy:

Which I don't like at all. So I'm very excited about this platform.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Because you can rest.

 

Lynn Levy:

You could rest.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So wait. Why do they do this to the mice?

 

Lynn Levy:

The point is you want to see how fast the mice can learn and remember where the platform is.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So it's like a learning test.

 

Lynn Levy:

It's a learning and memory test. And what you do is ...

 

Saul Villeda:

You keep dropping them into the pool.

 

Lynn Levy:

Over and over, and you just see how long it takes them to learn where the platform is.

 

Saul Villeda:

Exactly.

 

Lynn Levy:

So what you notice, if you do it a lot, this kind of experiment, is that there's a pattern that emerges. And it has to do with age.

 

Saul Villeda:

A young animal gets it. They figure it out much faster.

 

Lynn Levy:

Once they've done it a couple of times ...

 

Saul Villeda:

Let's say after the sixth or seventh time that you drop them in there ...

 

Lynn Levy:

They're like straight, stop, left, right.

 

Saul Villeda:

Got it.

 

Lynn Levy:

They go straight to it.

 

Saul Villeda:

But the old guys, they don't do that.

 

Lynn Levy:

So what does it look like if you drop an old mouse? According to Saul, no matter how many times you run an old mouse through the maze ...

 

Saul Villeda:

No matter what you do to them, they're just not getting better.

 

Lynn Levy:

So it's like ... Do I go left here? Right? I'm pretty sure it was right last time. Why did they make it like this?

 

Saul Villeda:

It's really hard. But that's where the blood came in.

 

Lynn Levy:

So Saul had an idea that was similar to Boyle's, 350 years ago.

 

Saul Villeda:

This is 1600?

 

Lynn Levy:

Although Saul didn't actually know about any of those old experiments. I gave him a copy of the paper.

 

Saul Villeda:

That's crazy. I'm going to keep this.

 

Lynn Levy:

Anyway, his new but old question was this.

 

Saul Villeda:

Well, what happens if you mix young and old blood? Does this affect learning and memory?

 

Lynn Levy:

So one of the things he did was he took blood from an old mouse, whose ... They're really bad at learning where the platform is, and he put it into a young mouse, who's really good. Just to see what would happen.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait. So he put old blood in young mice?

 

Saul Villeda:

Yes. And then we did all the tests.

 

Lynn Levy:

Drop them in the pool, the whole thing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And what happened?

 

Lynn Levy:

Well, all of a sudden ...

 

Saul Villeda:

They did much worse. The young animal looked a lot more like an old guy.

 

Lynn Levy:

Suddenly, this young mouse was just wandering around the maze all confused, like an old mouse.

 

Saul Villeda:

Not quite as bad, but pretty close.

 

Lynn Levy:

No idea where he is, no idea where the platform is.

 

Saul Villeda:

The old blood really did impair learning and memory.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Saul Villeda:

Isn't that crazy?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah. What's ... Is there something in the blood that would change the mental state of the recipient?

 

Jad Abumrad:

What was the blood doing?

 

Saul Villeda:

A good question. So we ...

 

Lynn Levy:

Saul and his collaborators also did another experiment, to get at that very question. And in this one, there were young mice who got old blood, but there were also old mice who got young blood.

 

Saul Villeda:

It went both ways, yeah.

 

Lynn Levy:

And at the end of the experiment, instead of looking at behavior ...

 

Saul Villeda:

We looked at the brain.

 

Lynn Levy:

See, they were looking at a part of the brain that specializes in learning and memory, and they were looking for a very specific thing.

 

Saul Villeda:

Brand new baby neurons.

 

Lynn Levy:

See, when you're young, as you learn things, your brain makes lots and lots of baby neurons, but as you get older ...

 

Saul Villeda:

Not so much.

 

Lynn Levy:

Not so much. So Saul and his collaborators, they took all these mice, old mice who got young blood, young mice who got old blood, sliced their brains real thin.

 

Saul Villeda:

Thinner than a slice of paper.

 

Lynn Levy:

And went hunting for baby neurons.

 

Saul Villeda:

So I counted all of these in a microscope, right? So literally with a little clicker, I just ...

 

Lynn Levy:

So wait, you're clicking every time you see a new ...

 

Saul Villeda:

A new neuron. Click, click, click, click, click.

 

Lynn Levy:

Apparently when you zoom in on one of these little neurons ...

 

Saul Villeda:

They look like little trees, really, when you're looking at them.

 

Lynn Levy:

So little tree, click. Little tree, click.

 

Saul Villeda:

Over hours and hours and hours.

 

Lynn Levy:

Until finally one night, pretty late ...

 

Saul Villeda:

It was, I think, one or two in the morning ...

 

Lynn Levy:

He gets his first look at the results.

 

Saul Villeda:

In a young animal, it was about a 25 percent decrease in those baby neurons.

 

Lynn Levy:

Was it dramatic?

 

Saul Villeda:

Oh yeah. I mean, you could see it.

 

Lynn Levy:

Just by looking. So it seems like somehow, when he gave the youngsters this old blood, the old blood was preventing baby neurons from forming. Now, in the old mice ...

 

Saul Villeda:

Normally, in an old animal, you're hard-pressed to find a handful of these cells.

 

Lynn Levy:

But after the old guys had been filled up with this young blood ...

 

Saul Villeda:

All of a sudden, we were getting maybe two or three times as many new neurons as we had seen before.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Two or three times as many?

 

Saul Villeda:

And they looked better. They looked longer, and they looked a lot more like the young neurons did.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Jad?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Give me your ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Come a little closer.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Stay away from me.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Does this mean what it sounds like it means? I get the young blood and suddenly I can finish the day with my gloves, umbrella, and my keys all in my right hand pockets?

 

Jad Abumrad:

You mean instead of losing them on the 1 Train?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Lynn Levy:

Maybe, but we're not at all ready to say that yet.

 

Saul Villeda:

Not yet.

 

Lynn Levy:

This is really new stuff. There's a lot more work that needs to be done before we know really even what it means. It does seem possible, right? I feel like if you come out with a result that says yes, you can find ... You can do the water maze better if you're full of young blood.

 

Saul Villeda:

Crazy, right?

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah. It's crazy and it freaks me out a little bit. I feel like old women are going to be buying vials of baby blood.

 

Saul Villeda:

You sound like my mother. My mother is this ... On a good day, five foot Latin lady. She's from Guatemala, and she's loud and excited, and she sounds just like you, just in Spanish.

 

Lynn Levy:

Oh.

 

Saul Villeda:

She's like, "Mijo, be careful. Be careful."

 

Lynn Levy:

Because?

 

Saul Villeda:

Well, she's worried that all of a sudden, 16-year-olds are going to go missing.

 

Lynn Levy:

Don't you worry about that? That seems to be ...

 

Saul Villeda:

No.

 

Lynn Levy:

That does seem to be the logical extension of this, though.

 

Saul Villeda:

Oh, man. You really do sound like my mom.

 

Robert Krulwich:

But they are at least sure that it is the introduction of the new blood that is the agent of change here?

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah, pretty sure, because this isn't the only study. There have actually been a bunch of studies in the past several years that have come out with similar results for different parts of the body, like the skeletal muscle can repair itself better when there's young blood in the mix. Actually, the heart, there was a really recent study at Harvard ... [inaudible 00:40:54] Amy Wagers is one of the people who worked on it. I went to visit her at her lab in Cambridge.

 

Lynn Levy:

I'm from WNYC Radio in New York.

 

Lynn Levy:

And one of Amy's assistants, Danica, showed me this tiny little vial.

 

Lynn Levy:

Wow, this is really frozen.

 

Danica:

It's minus 80 degrees Celsius.

 

Lynn Levy:

It had a protein in it that they got out of the blood, a very special protein.

 

Lynn Levy:

Oh boy.

 

Lynn Levy:

Called GDF11.

 

Lynn Levy:

So you've just opened the freezer, and it's crusted in ice, and you're taking out a little red box. What do you got?

 

Danica:

That's what it looks like. GDF11 in a vial. So it's basically the purified protein that we keep at minus 80.

 

Lynn Levy:

So they think that the clear stuff in this vial, it does something amazing, because when you get older, your heart tends to get bigger, which is not its ... You don't want that. It doesn't work as well. You want it to stay small. So what these Harvard people did is they took these old, enlarged mouse hearts and bathed them in young blood, and they shrunk back down to be like young heart size. And they think that very important protein is the mechanism. That's the key.

 

Lynn Levy:

It looks like absolutely nothing.

 

Danica:

Exactly. That's pretty much it. So you can see the frozen liquid at the bottom. That's really it.

 

Lynn Levy:

So that's a very important little thing in that vial that looks like nothing.

 

Danica:

Exactly. It regenerates many systems, so ... Yep.

 

Lynn Levy:

So that's the research being done in Boston, right?

 

Lynn Levy:

It's beeping because it's angry?

 

Danica:

Yes. Going up in temperature, so ...

 

Lynn Levy:

But then you talk to the guys, to Saul and the guy he's working with, they're looking at 600 proteins right now, trying to figure out which one might be implicated, or which ones might be implicated. And if you were to talk about all the proteins in your blood, if you include all the splices and little variant proteins, there could be up to 100 thousand of them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So there's 100 thousand different agents in there doing something?

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Producer Lynn Levy.

 

Speaker 33:

(Singing)

 

Speaker 34:

Start of message.

 

Christien T.:

Hi, this is Christien Tinsley.

 

Inger Tornberg:

This is Inger Hagglund Tornberg in Sweden.

 

James Shapiro:

Hi, this is Jim Shapiro.

 

Christien T.:

[inaudible 00:44:01] start reading the credits for Radiolab.

 

Inger Tornberg:

Radiolab is supported in part ...

 

James Shapiro:

By the National Science Foundation and ...

 

Christien T.:

And the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

 

Inger Tornberg:

Enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

 

James Shapiro:

More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.

 

Christien T.:

I know you guys were thinking about the Dracula version. I don't think I can do it, but let me ... I'll give it a shot. Radiolab is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Three, two, one. Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab. And today ...

 

Speaker 35:

(Singing)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Blood.

 

Speaker 36:

I'm told we're going to get some pretty cool donors today. So here we go.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right. So there are places in the country where people give a lot of blood, like Minneapolis, Minnesota or Columbus, Ohio.

 

Speaker 37:

All right. That one goes in the paper bag here.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Where if you go to a blood drive, and we did ...

 

Speaker 37:

Hey.

 

Speaker 36:

Hey.

 

Speaker 37:

And today's date and a phone number on there is all.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You'll find a really comforting scene.

 

Speaker 37:

We got a ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

People with busy lives taking a moment to walk into a cubicle room, sit down with some nurses.

 

Speaker 38:

Allergies to iodine at all?

 

Jad Abumrad:

No.

 

Speaker 38:

No.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Stick out their arms.

 

Speaker 39:

All right. You ready for the fun part here?

 

Speaker 36:

Yes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And ...

 

Speaker 39:

And then I'll just mark your vein just to make sure I know exactly where I need to go. Stick it in, and save some lives. How about that?

 

Speaker 36:

I am super excited.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And ...

 

Speaker 39:

Now's the time to look away. I do not like to watch. Beautiful.

 

Speaker 36:

Okay. That hurt.

 

Speaker 39:

It did hurt?

 

Speaker 36:

Yeah.

 

Speaker 39:

Oh, I'm sorry.

 

Speaker 36:

It's okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And one by one, they drain their own blood. Sometimes a double dose.

 

Speaker 36:

You give double the amount.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, like this guy.

 

Speaker 40:

I do feel a little woozy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All to help strangers they will never meet. And if you ask these folks ...

 

Speaker 39:

Why do you donate?

 

Jad Abumrad:

You'll get the answers you expect and that you hope for. Well, because ...

 

Speaker 41:

Why wouldn't you? It's selfish not to.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's the right thing to do.

 

Speaker 42:

Being healthy, I have a responsibility.

 

Speaker 43:

I thought about a person in need in the hospital.

 

Speaker 44:

My mom used to work in neonatal ICU. She always tells stories about the babies that needed blood transfusions and it always just made me think of if I had kid, I would really want blood to be there, for them to have blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I mean, the simple point is that giving blood is a gift, right?

 

Speaker 45:

It's the most selfless thing you can do. It's the most loving thing you can do.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's the gift of life.

 

Speaker 45:

You can't give any greater gift than that.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's the message we've gotten in PSAs for the last half century, but if you poke into it, as if with a big, long needle ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

And if that long needle is named Molly Webster.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And Soren Wheeler. You will find that the reality is way more ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

Complicated.

 

Molly Webster:

Way more complicated.

 

Gil Gaul:

Okay. [inaudible 00:46:59]. This is Gil Gaul.

 

Soren Wheeler:

We should just say first of all that this whole story started for us with this guy. Gil Gaul, he's a longtime newspaper reporter.

 

Gil Gaul:

And now I'm retired, and I write books.

 

Molly Webster:

Gilbert Gaul, retired newspaper man.

 

Gil Gaul:

Right. I worked 40 years in newspapers.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And the story that Gil ran into actually started back in the late 1980s.

 

Gil Gaul:

What happened was the Red Cross would come to our office.

 

Soren Wheeler:

To do blood drives.

 

Gil Gaul:

And I literally was giving blood one day.

 

Molly Webster:

Sitting in the chair with a needle in his arm.

 

Gil Gaul:

And the blood was draining out of my arm into the bag.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And a very simple question popped into his head.

 

Gil Gaul:

I wonder what happens to this stuff after it gets into this bag? Who knows why I was thinking this? Actually, I don't remember, but I suggested to Craig Stock, my editor, hey, why don't we just do a little explainer about blood for a Sunday piece?

 

Soren Wheeler:

Just a short little thing about what happens to the blood, how it's processed, where it ends up.

 

Gil Gaul:

He said sure, go ahead. And so I called up the local Red Cross, set up an interview with the executive director of the blood center there. And I went up to see this guy, and the strangest thing happened. Before I could even ask any questions, he started in at me, wanting to know why I wanted to know this stuff, what was the purpose, why was I coming after Red Cross? And he was just extraordinarily defensive. And for me, as a reporter, I mean, my antennae are going up. And that's how it all started.

 

Soren Wheeler:

At that point, what was supposed to be a nice little Sunday piece about the gift of life turned into a crazy story filled with ...

 

Speaker 49:

Hospital contracts.

 

Gil Gaul:

Money and the salaries. Strategic business and economics.

 

Robert Krulwich:

[crosstalk 00:48:45] Pharmaceuticals.

 

Speaker 49:

[inaudible 00:48:46]

 

Jad Abumrad:

Production.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Verbal assaults.

 

Speaker 49:

Competition.

 

Jad Abumrad:

[crosstalk 00:48:49] business.

 

Gil Gaul:

I absolutely had moments when I would sit back and say, "Oh my god, I can't believe this is going on."

 

Jad Abumrad:

What? What is he talking about?

 

Molly Webster:

We're going to tell you in one second, maybe two minutes. But first, you should know that historically, there's always been a tension in the way we think about blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Tension.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah. So, I'm going to rewind.

 

Scott Carney:

When blood was first being used, it was during war times, during World War I.

 

Molly Webster:

That's Scott Carney. He's the author of the book The Red Market.

 

Scott Carney:

And it hit big business in the Battle of [Pembrey 00:49:24].

 

Molly Webster:

That was the very first time medics realized they could used preserved blood, have it on the battlefield at the ready anytime they wanted it.

 

Scott Carney:

So you could keep your troops alive longer if you had blood available.

 

Molly Webster:

Still, the blood didn't last very long, and the process of giving blood was pretty gruesome and painful. But by World War II and into the Korean war, we'd gotten much better at storing and transporting blood. And giving blood was less painful, which meant people back home could get involved.

 

Scott Carney:

What happens is there are these massive ramp-ups.

 

Speaker 51:

You can give these men the gift of life, a pint of your blood.

 

Scott Carney:

To get blood to the battlefield.

 

Speaker 51:

The Department of Defense is calling for all Americans to roll up their sleeves. There is no ...

 

Douglas Starr:

For the first time, you saw these amazing ...

 

Speaker 51:

The need is urgent. The need is ...

 

Douglas Starr:

Magazine advertisement, showing a soldier on one knee holding his rifle, and it said, "He gave his blood. Will you give yours?"

 

Molly Webster:

That's Douglas Starr, author of the book, Blood.

 

Douglas Starr:

An epic history of medicine and commerce.

 

Scott Carney:

In Britain, there was this idea. We're being bombed. We want to do anything we can do to help the war effort. Now, in the United States, there was a voluntary donation system, but there was also this thing. Hey, we're Americans. Let's make some money on it as well. So what happened in the states is that you had these two systems. You had the voluntary Red Cross model, and you also had these places that would pay you.

 

Molly Webster:

Anywhere from 15 to 40 bucks.

 

Scott Carney:

For your blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Really?

 

Douglas Starr:

Yeah. All over the country, usually in the skid rows ...

 

Scott Carney:

Skid row, shanty towns.

 

Douglas Starr:

People were setting up these for profit blood centers, and they're paying people for their blood. People called them Booze for Ooze, because they were often set up nextdoor to liquor stores, and sometimes instead of in money, they would pay in chips redeemed at liquor stores. So you could imagine the population they attracted.

 

Molly Webster:

According to one eye-witness account ...

 

Scott Carney:

There were worms on the floor. It was a dirty, dirty business, like your first college apartment. It was just a really, really bad place. And ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

Actually, probably worse than my first college apartment.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah. I know. I was like worms on the floor. I don't know where you were living, Scott, but worms weren't really the problem. I mean, on the one hand, these paid places ...

 

Scott Carney:

Got a lot of blood. The volumes were quite high.

 

Molly Webster:

But pretty quickly, doctors and hospitals, they started to notice that ...

 

Scott Carney:

That paid blood is lower quality than altruistic-given blood.

 

Molly Webster:

Because you're attracting people who are down and out.

 

Scott Carney:

Might have disease.

 

Douglas Starr:

A lot of infections. A lot of hepatitis.

 

Molly Webster:

And if they were sick, they'd still want to get paid, so they'd lie about it.

 

Scott Carney:

Prisoners were giving blood. The state of Arkansas funded its whole prison system on blood cells.

 

Douglas Starr:

And of course, everybody from the blood bankers to clergy people are saying this is obscene. There is something sacred about blood. It's not a commodity. It's a holy substance.

 

Molly Webster:

And so by the late '60s, the early '70s, people were saying no more paid blood. We need to get rid of it. All blood should be donated. It should be given freely. And it was partly about making blood safe, but it was really about more than that.

 

Scott Carney:

In addition to just being safer, an altruistic blood supply brings the society together, because when you're giving blood out of altruism, you are saying ultimately, "I'm doing this for the society in general. I'm doing it for the war effort. I'm doing it because I'm an American." And that it has this other effect that brings a whole nation together.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So today, there's no more paid blood?

 

Molly Webster:

No paid blood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So no money involved.

 

Molly Webster:

Well ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

Kind of, which brings us back to Gil.

 

Gil Gaul:

I want to know a little bit more about how this works. And so what happened was ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

After his conversation with the Red Cross guy, Gil went out. He got a list of all the blood banks in the country, and he just started going down the list.

 

Gil Gaul:

I would call one a day, or call two a day, and ask them what do you charge for a unit of blood?

 

Jad Abumrad:

What do you charge?

 

Gil Gaul:

Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah. This was one of the surprises. It turns out right after they draw the blood ...

 

Speaker 36:

It feels ... The tube feels warm.

 

Speaker 39:

Because it's coming right out of your body.

 

Molly Webster:

Right after, they'll put it in a bag.

 

Speaker 39:

Keep it on ice. Package it up.

 

Molly Webster:

And they will sell that pint of blood to a local hospital.

 

Speaker 39:

Yep. So we do have different contracts with different hospitals, different blood centers.

 

Soren Wheeler:

I believe right now, it's almost 300 dollars a pint is what they sell it for.

 

Molly Webster:

What?

 

Soren Wheeler:

That's ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

300 bucks a pint.

 

Molly Webster:

That's ... I was thinking five.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Dollars?

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah.

 

Soren Wheeler:

No. We should say 300 is actually a rough average for most major cities.

 

Molly Webster:

Right. And theoretically, the price that the hospitals pay the blood center, it's just to cover costs. And there are a lot.

 

Gil Gaul:

The salaries, the bags, the testing, the distribution, business office, public relations.

 

Soren Wheeler:

That's just a partial list that one former blood banker gave us, but that's really what Gil wanted to understand. When someone donates a pint of blood, what does it cost to process that blood? And then what do you turn around and sell it for?

 

Gil Gaul:

And some of the places were shocked by the questions. Some of them would say there's no way on earth we're going to tell you. Some of them would say, "Oh. We charge 48 dollars a unit."

 

Soren Wheeler:

So he made a list.

 

Gil Gaul:

On a legal, yellow pad.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Of all the different prices the blood banks would charge their local hospitals.

 

Gil Gaul:

You might see, at that time, as low as the low 30s and as high as 70 bucks.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And he wondered why the variation?

 

Gil Gaul:

Some of it was explainable. Labor costs are higher in Los Angeles, New York. So that made sense, but where that got interesting was ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

He says he just happened to be talking to some blood banker, probably a guy from the Midwest.

 

Gil Gaul:

Maybe about prices.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And the guy just casually mentions that his blood bank actually gets way more blood than it needs.

 

Gil Gaul:

Yeah.

 

Soren Wheeler:

They had a surplus. And they told him ...

 

Gil Gaul:

What we do is we take that blood ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

And we sell it to other blood banks.

 

Gil Gaul:

We sell it to somebody who can't collect enough. And I probably reacted like, "What?"

 

Soren Wheeler:

And that led him to call up a blood bank in a little town called Appleton, Wisconsin.

 

Gil Gaul:

In Appleton, they ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

That blood bank, at the time, was pulling in plenty of blood, way more than they needed.

 

Gil Gaul:

Oh yeah.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Locally.

 

Gil Gaul:

I knew that Appleton had no trouble collecting plenty of blood.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And yet ...

 

Gil Gaul:

Around the holidays ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

The director himself was quoted in the local paper saying ...

 

Gil Gaul:

Oh gosh. We can't collect enough blood. We're pleading with you to come in. We've never had it so tough.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And Gil basically asked the guy, "Why are you saying this? You're doing fine."

 

Gil Gaul:

I did what any reporter would do. I began to press him on some numbers. He acknowledged that half of the blood they were collecting in Appleton was actually being sold to other blood centers.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Appleton was taking a chunk of that blood, marking it up 10 dollars a pint, and selling it to ...

 

Gil Gaul:

To ... I think it was Lexington, Kentucky. I called Lexington, Kentucky.

 

Soren Wheeler:

They were taking that blood and taking out the platelets, and then selling the red blood cells.

 

Gil Gaul:

To Broward.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Broward County, Florida.

 

Gil Gaul:

So I then called Broward.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And he found out that Broward was marking it up 20 more dollars a pint and selling it ...

 

Gil Gaul:

To New York City, which is always looking for blood. They could never collect nearly enough blood.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Basically, what he discovered was that the whole gift economy of blood, that was only on the bottom level.

 

Speaker 39:

I'm just feeling the direction at the vein right now. It's nice and plump.

 

Soren Wheeler:

It was only down there.

 

Speaker 39:

You have an absolutely gorgeous vein in here. Absolutely gorgeous.

 

Speaker 36:

I do?

 

Speaker 39:

You do.

 

Soren Wheeler:

As soon as you moved up ...

 

Gil Gaul:

It was a market.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Blood was being bought and sold and marked up.

 

Gil Gaul:

At every step of the way.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And this was ... So we're talking late '80s here. This is ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

Yeah. Late '80s. '88, '89.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And is this still going on?

 

Gil Gaul:

Oh yeah.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And it's a huge, huge business.

 

Gil Gaul:

I looked at the Red Cross tax return yesterday just to refresh my memory. When I was writing about them, their blood business was a 500 million dollar a year business. It's now a 2.1 or 2.2 billion dollar a year business.

 

Molly Webster:

And it's not just the Red Cross. I mean, the Red Cross does half of the blood collections in the United States, but there are small independent blood banks all over the country. And we pulled some of their tax forms, and they have revenues of 30 million over there. There's 70 million over there. Some of them are 50 million.

 

Charles Rouault:

When I left the blood center, we were, at the time, about 90 million dollar a year blood center.

 

Soren Wheeler:

So this is Charles Rouault.

 

Charles Rouault:

I have been in blood banking actually since about 1973.

 

Soren Wheeler:

And more than any other guy we talked to, he really gave us a feeling for the business side of the blood business, especially ...

 

Charles Rouault:

In south Florida.

 

Soren Wheeler:

In south Florida in the '80s and '90s, you had an unusual situation, because you had a bunch of different blood banks.

 

Charles Rouault:

There was a program in Miami-Dade. There was one in West Palm Beach.

 

Soren Wheeler:

All these different programs competing for the same donors.

 

Gil Gaul:

You might anticipate there would be some competition, but you didn't that you could ever see anything like south Florida.

 

Charles Rouault:

Things became quite heated.

 

Soren Wheeler:

The heads of the blood banks attacked each other in the press.

 

Gil Gaul:

In the press, in the local stories. Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

They got into crazy bidding wars over access to high school students.

 

Charles Rouault:

The great school board war. Yes.

 

Soren Wheeler:

They accused each other of ...

 

Gil Gaul:

Stealing donors, underpricing their products in order to gain market share.

 

Peter Tomasulo:

One morning, I would go to work ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

That's Peter Tomasulo. He was one of [Casey 00:58:44] Rouault's competitors.

 

Peter Tomasulo:

And I would find that one of our hospitals had been visited by Casey and his team, and they had given us notice that they were going to switch to Casey. That feels horrible.

 

Charles Rouault:

Well, it's business.

 

Molly Webster:

At a certain point, the competition says Casey got so intense ...

 

Charles Rouault:

That I got a number of ugly phone calls from people.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Saying what?

 

Charles Rouault:

We're going to bury you.

 

Jad Abumrad:

We're going to bury you?

 

Charles Rouault:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Soren Wheeler:

In that case, the call came from a New York blood bank. Casey decided that the only way he could compete in Florida and the only way he could keep his blood from going bad was to take his blood up to New York, sell it to New York hospitals at way below market value.

 

Charles Rouault:

So we were undercutting the blood supplier in New York at that time.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And they didn't like that.

 

Charles Rouault:

No, but ...

 

Soren Wheeler:

It worked.

 

Charles Rouault:

We became known as the golden arch to New York.

 

Soren Wheeler:

He eventually figured out that he could buy blood on the cheap from a place like say, I don't know, Iowa, and sell it up the chain to New York.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So you really did become a ...

 

Molly Webster:

A blood-runner.

 

Charles Rouault:

Well, we called it arbitrage.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Arbitrage. Yeah. It's exactly arbitrage, isn't it?

 

Charles Rouault:

We were arbitraging the units.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I mean, that's ... In Wall Street, that's the most cut-throat of the cut-throat arbitragers.

 

Charles Rouault:

Yeah, but we're talking here about blood. And do you throw it away or do you find a home for it?

 

Soren Wheeler:

Casey says if he hadn't done that, he would have had to pour that blood down the drain.

 

Charles Rouault:

If you're running a blood center, you have an obligation to make sure that the promise that you made to that donor is fulfilled, that your unit is going to go to take care of somebody who is sick.

 

Charles Rouault:

Throughout the blood banking industry, I have yet to bump into somebody who wasn't motivated by that promise.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Even the guy on the other end of the phone call, who said I will bury you? You think he had the same motivations as you?

 

Charles Rouault:

Yeah. Actually, it was a she.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh. Really?

 

Soren Wheeler:

And here's the thing. At a certain point ... I mean, Molly, I think you'll agree, that we started to feel differently about this whole blood business, blood system kind of stuff.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Molly, do you agree about that?

 

Molly Webster:

I do agree.

 

Soren Wheeler:

I mean, we've talked to ... How many blood bank people have we talked to?

 

Molly Webster:

Oh god.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Tons.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah.

 

Soren Wheeler:

I have to say, these guys are not ... They're not that cut-throat Wall Street person. Talking to them, they're not like that. I mean, they're stuck with the reality that demands that they act in business-like ways.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But not to be intentionally naïve here. I know businesses have to run like businesses, but there's some part of me that just doesn't want blood to be a business. It shouldn't be a business.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Well, I mean maybe you need to let go of that idea.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah. I found ... I kept reporting this, and I kept saying, "Why did everyone keep telling me it was a gift if it's this commodity that everyone's shuttling around? Why don't we just call it what it is?" We keep hiding behind this idea of a gift. I would still donate. I don't think I care.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Maybe we need to let a little bit of that gift image go.

 

Douglas Starr:

I mean, there is something wonderful about giving. And I think one of the touching things to see was how after 911, so many people rushed to give blood. And after the Boston Marathon bombing, so many people rushed to give blood. Unfortunately, especially after 911, that was based on an old-fashioned idea that no longer is valid.

 

Molly Webster:

And it may actually be harmful, according to Douglas Starr. Take 911.

 

Douglas Starr:

What happened after 911 is all the politicians said, "Give blood." The Red Cross kept saying giving blood. But the people in the know, the other blood bankers were saying, "No, no. Stop. Stop. We can't use it." I spoke to the head of the Blood Bank of New York, ground zero. He said, "As soon as I saw the plane hit the building, I thought, "We're not going to be able to use that blood."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Douglas Starr:

They had huge lines, all the facilities got overwhelmed all over the country.

 

Molly Webster:

A lot of the facilities ended up having to pour a lot of blood down the drain.

 

Douglas Starr:

Blood went bad, but there was this other rebound effect. And that is if you've stood online to give blood, and they came out and said, "You know what? Go home. We don't need you," psychologically, you feel that you've done your thing. So six months later, in the winter season, during Christmas when they usually have lows, they had historic lows because nobody would come out to give.

 

Molly Webster:

Oh, because they were like, "Oh, we gave blood. They were full."

 

Douglas Starr:

Yeah. I did my civic responsibility. So the final stage is we really do have to understand that this is a pharmaceutical.

 

Soren Wheeler:

That might be another way to think about blood. I mean, it's a drug. It's not simply a gift that I can choose to give or not give. It's a precious raw material, and I'm the only one who ... Well, we are the only ones who have it. And when it comes out, yeah, some people make some money on that. And yeah, they could definitely be more upfront about that.

 

Gil Gaul:

I wish they were a little more transparent.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Definitely. But I'm the only one who has this stuff. And when I stop to think about how powerful this drug, this pharmaceutical really was, I decided maybe I should give.

 

Soren Wheeler:

That is a big one. That is a really big one.

 

Speaker 55:

So make a fist and hold. You're going to turn your head on the other side if you don't want to look. And you're going to feel a pinch, okay? Don't move your hand. Take a deep breath. Open your hand.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Thank you for being my first nurse.

 

Speaker 55:

You're welcome.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Donor nurse.

 

Speaker 55:

All righty. [inaudible 01:04:25].

 

Jad Abumrad:

Producer Soren Wheeler, Molly Webster. Special thanks to Rachel Quimby and Anna Weggel. And also, Edward Scott and Jeff [Mikula 01:04:34]. And before we go, we actually had the Brooklyn band Lucius play a couple of blood songs that we used in this episode. You might have heard one earlier. Here it is.

 

Speaker 56:

(Singing)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, you can get that blood song from Lucius plus one more on our website, radiolab.org. It's a free download. Thanks for listening.

 

Scott Carney:

Hi, this is Scott Carney.

 

Dan:

This is Dan [Tracy 01:05:12].

 

Scott Carney:

And I'm calling to leave a message about you guys, for you guys on the radio.

 

Dan:

So here you go.

 

Scott Carney:

Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad.

 

Dan:

Our staff includes Ellen Horne, Soren Wheeler, Pat Walters.

 

Speaker 58:

Jim Howard, Brenna Farrell, Molly Webster.

 

Scott Carney:

Malissa O'Donnell, Dylan Keefe.

 

Dan:

Lynn Levy, and Andy Mills.

 

Speaker 59:

With help from Matt [inaudible 01:05:34]

 

Speaker 60:

[inaudible 01:05:39]

 

Dan:

Special thanks to [inaudible 01:05:42] Burgess, Amy Wagers, Francesco Loffredo.

 

Speaker 58:

Stephen Anderson, and Barbara Johanson.

 

Speaker 61:

And Joe. Stake through the heart. Love it. Goodbye, Radiolab. Goodbye.

 

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