The Unrecognized Pioneer of Dialysis: Dr. Georg Haas

Prof. Georg Haas was born on April 4, 1886, in the old Bavarian town of Nürnberg, Germany. Between the years 1904 and 1909, he studied medicine at the Universities of München and Freiburg. During his postgraduate education, he began experimentation with removing intermediate weight molecules from the blood of animals using dialysis.

The medical term "dialysis" originated in 1854 when Scottish chemist Thomas Graham defined the movement of particles of various sizes moving across a semipermeable membrane under osmotic pressure.

The procedure that Haas used consisted of circulating animal blood through reed stalks. The reed dialyzer was cylindrical in form, 15 cm in length with a blood volume of 8 to 10 ml.

The Artificial Kidney

During the years of World War I, Haas encountered many cases of trench nephritis, a condition that often progressed to fatal uremia. Haas rejected the current treatments of the day, such as bloodletting, because they worsened the anemia caused by renal failure. These observations led him back to his earlier research with dialysis.

Haas had no access to current medical literature because of the war, and was unaware of the work of Abel, Rowntree, and Turner at Johns Hopkins University, who were actually able to realize the first dialysis using a celloidin membrane. They named the new medical device the artificial kidney and called the process vividiffusion. They had successfully used their process in dogs, but had to suspend research because the war had made it impossible to obtain hirudin, an anticoagulant made from leeches, from Europe.

In 1928, Haas reported the results of three blood cleansings performed on two different patients. Haas was able to use newly available heparin as an anticoagulant. Haas performed the treatments by removing 400 cc of blood from the patients, cleansing it then returning it to the patient. He repeated the procedure nine times.

The Way of the Cross

Haas was able to note several benefits in the patients after dialysis such as the resolution of uremic symptoms, reduction in blood pressure, stabilization of heart rate, and the removal of fluid. Sadly, Haas was forced to discontinue his work with dialysis due to lack of support from the medical community.

"From the initial idea to the actual realization of the dialysis method, it was a very long way. I would have to say, it was the way of the Cross…."

Georg Haas, 1928