James Blundell was born in London in 1790, and received his general education under the Rev Thomas Thomason and his uncle Dr John Haighton.
He developed an interest in medical studies and went on to graduate as a doctor of medicine from Edinburgh University in 1813, the most highly regarded University in the field. Dr Blundell returned to London, and in 1814 began to lecture in conjunction with Dr Haighton on midwifery and physiology with great success (they were reported to have the highest attendances for their classes in the whole of London).
In his studies into midwifery, Blundell had witnessed the deaths of many mothers through blood loss or postpartum haemorrhaging, and began experimentation to perfect a procedure for blood transfusion. Prior to his studies it was widely believed that transfusion of blood from one being to another would be of no benefit and indeed harmful, but Blundell noted that this was not the case if the process was completed quickly before coagulation could begin. He was also the first to discover that no air could be present in a syringe that was to infect fluid into the bloodstream.
He conducted his first human to human blood transfusion sometime around 1829, though there is some speculation as to the exact date. The impact of the breakthrough was monumental to say the least, and doubtless saved many thousands of lives over the passage of time since. He also developed many instruments for the transfusion of blood, several of which can still be found in use to this day.
Considered by many to be an eccentric genius, Blundell never married and died in London, 1878. He left an estate worth some £350,000 much of which he willed to his niece Sarah Haighton-Noyes.