World Diabetes Day is celebrated in honor of Dr. Fredrick Banting, whose leadership, tenacity and belief led to the discovery of insulin.
The discovery of insulin has saved the lives of countless millions of people over the past hundred years and will continue to save millions of lives in the near future and beyond.
During a hot summer in 1921, Dr.Banting secured space to test out his theory at 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 an 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.
But, as with any amazing discovery, there is always more to the story.
One of the biggest barriers to Banting was the simple fact that he was not involved in the field of diabetes research. The idea leading to the discovery of insulin came to him after preparing a lecture on the pancreas and diabetes, a subject he knew little about. He wasn’t a trained researcher and thus securing support for the project was initially difficult.
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 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 the US, namely through Dr. Elliot Joslin in the late summer of 1922.
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 saline to alcohol to purify the ‘extract’. Dr. Macleod also secured the support of JB Collip, the 4th man on the team, and the first person to purify insulin for human use. Best is also known for pushing Banting to return to the research during a particularly dark period of failure.
Dr. Banting – Fun and Interesting Facts
Want to Learn More About Dr. Banting?
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