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Canadian Discovery of Insulin

100 YEARS SINCE THE ISOLATION OF INSULIN BY BANTING AND BEST

100 years ago in May 1921, insulin was isolated by Canadian physician Dr. Frederick Banting in Toronto, Canada.


Dr. Banting won a Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1923. The prize was shared with J.J.R. Macleod. “Banting felt he should have shared the Nobel Prize with Charles H. Best, his co-worker, not with J.J.R. Macleod, his head of department. Banting shared his prize money with Best; Macleod with another co-worker, J.B. Collip.” Source: Colombo’s Canadian Quotations, Edited by John Robert Colombo, 1974.


Before the discovery of insulin, children who developed type 1 diabetes would get extremely high blood sugar and could not utilize carbohydrates for energy and metabolise proteins and fats; they couldn’t survive to adulthood. On January 11th, 1921, at the Toronto General Hospital, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy with type 1 diabetes, was the first to receive an injection of Banting and Best’s pancreatic extract. Two weeks later he received Collip’s purified extract. This gave the boy a miraculous return to life. He lived for 13 years on this insulin but died at the age of 27 from diabetes complications.


In doing this research for this post, I learned an interesting fact that Dr. James Collip received his PhD in 1924 and his MD in 1926 from my alma mater, University of Alberta, in Edmonton. According to the New Trail Winter 2020: “While on sabbatical in 1921-22, James Collip joined J.J.R. Macleod, Frederick Banting and Charles Best on a project to develop synthesized insulin.” And as they say, the rest is history.


THE MOST IMPORTANT FOURTEEN WORDS IN MEDICAL RESEARCH IN CANADA

“Tie off pancreas ducts of dogs. Wait six or eight weeks. Remove and extract.”

These words were scribbled down by Dr. Frederick Banting, a 29-year-old medical researcher. He “lept out of bed at 2:00 A.M., October 30, 1920, scribbled these words in his medical notebook, and went back to sleep.” This is the procedure that led to the isolation of insulin in May of the following year (1921). Source: Colombo’s Canadian Quotations, Edited by John Robert Colombo, 1974.


Dr. Banting – a truly good person

Banting is remembered as the co-discover of insulin. He should also be remembered as a person who gave his life to medicine and helping others. With another noted Canadian doctor of his time, Dr. Norman Bethune, Banting advocated for the creation of a health care system that would provide equal access to everyone regardless of their economic level.


Share your thoughts about Dr. Banting and Dr. Best and the discovery of insulin.

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