On October 25th, 1923 the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to Frederick Grant Banting and John James Richard MacLeod “for the discovery of insulin”. The discovery was made in 1921 i.e., only two years before, which makes the time period between the detection and this prize one of the shortest in the history of the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Banting was born on November 14, 1891. That is why we celebrate World Diabetes Day on November 14th.
During a hot summer in 1921, Dr. Banting secured space to test out his theory in the University of Toronto. Along with his colleague, Charles Best, and a bare bones lab, they conducted dozens of experiments on dogs, which ultimately led to the discovery of insulin.
Dr. Banting and Charles Best began their experiments ligating the pancreases of dogs, thinking this would prevent destruction by the digestive pancreatic juices, and then isolating the extract from the islet cells. They then processed the extract from the islet cells and injected this extract they called “insulin” into diabetic dogs. According to an audio Interview with Dr. Best, by July 1921, they had 75 positive examples of insulin lowering blood glucose levels in dogs.
In February 1922, doctor Frederick Banting and biochemist John Macleod published their paper on the successful use of a alcohol based pancreatic extract for normalizing blood glucose levels in a human patient.
Here are some photos of the first insulin bottles produced by the University of Toronto and Eli Lilly.
Soon, word of their discovery got out and the race was on to produce enough insulin to treat the flood of type 1 patients arriving in Toronto to receive this miracle injection.
First Children to Receive Insulin
The first patient to receive insulin was a ‘welfare’ case at Toronto General Hospital – no clinical trial structure to say the least. People from Canada/US flooded into Toronto to receive treatment. Banting struggled with the lack of accessibility of insulin – volume needed and issues of purification.
The earliest patients were “selected”, some youths from Canada/US, some soldiers with diabetes (probably because of Banting’s service in the First World War) and then later some select private patients. During this time they were working hard to increase the volume and continue to improve the purification process. Insulin was available for testing in US, namely through Dr. Elliot Joslin in the late summer 1922.
Dr. Banting – Fun and Interesting Facts
Takes a Team
While Best played a critical and important role, credit must also go to Professor Macleod, from the University of Toronto, who provided the lab space, showed Dr. Banting how to operate on dogs, provided his student Best and suggested they switch from a saline to alcohol to purify the ‘extract’. Dr. Macleod also secured the support of JB Collip, the 4th man on the team and the fist person to purify insulin for human use. Best is also known for pushing Banting to return to the research during a particular dark period of failure.
Want to Learn More About the Dr. Banting?
Historical Insulin Powerpoint Slides – here is a collection of some of my favorite powerpoint slides, depicting the discovery of insulin.
November kicks off National Diabetes Month, a time to recognize that over 11% of Americans are living with diabetes and over 35% have prediabetes. Since diabetes results from a combination of genetics plus environment, there is a recognition that social determinants of health play a pivotal role in the development of diabetes and its complications. Through advocacy and education, we can inform individuals on best care for diabetes and support them in taking action to improve the health of their communities to prevent future diabetes. We have put together a list of FREE diabetes resources in English and Spanish to share with people living with prediabetes and diabetes. Thank you for your advocacy and belief that we can make a difference. Coach Beverly
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