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The Announcement of the Discovery of Insulin: A Breakthrough in the Treatment of Diabetes

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

#35 Science in History

11th February 1922

On February 11, 1922, a research paper was published in the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, co-written by Dr. Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best, entitled "The Internal Secretion of the Pancreas." This paper announced the discovery of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates glucose levels in the blood. This breakthrough in medical science would change the lives of people with diabetes forever.

Charles H. Best and Frederick G. Banting with one of the diabetic dogs used in their experiments.

Before the discovery of insulin, people with diabetes were faced with a grim prognosis. The condition was characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood, which could lead to a range of debilitating symptoms, including blindness, amputations, and death. There was no effective treatment, and people with diabetes were often confined to a life of poverty, unable to work and dependent on others for their care.

Banting had a big problem from the start - he had no research experience so approached Professor J.J.R. McLeod at the University of Toronto for help. Although McLeod had little confidence in the enterprise, Banting managed to convince him to supply lab space and resources.

Banting and Best's discovery of insulin revolutionized the treatment of diabetes. By removing the pancreas from dogs and extracting insulin from the gland, they were able to demonstrate that insulin could regulate glucose levels in the blood and prevent the symptoms of diabetes. The production of insulin soon became a lifesaving treatment for people with diabetes.

Insulin’s discovery was not without challenges. Early insulin preparations were crude and impure, and the extraction process was time-consuming and costly. Despite these challenges, insulin was quickly adopted as a treatment for diabetes, and the discovery was recognized with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923. The Nobel Prize was awarded jointly to McLeod and Banting and, astonishingly, not to Charles Best.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, Banting recognized Best's important contributions to the discovery of insulin and acknowledged the close collaboration between the two researchers. He went on to announce that he would be sharing half of his award with Best, as a token of his appreciation for Best's contributions to the project.

Banting and Best's discovery of insulin is widely regarded as one of the greatest achievements in the history of medicine. Today, millions of people with the condition can live full and active lives thanks to the discovery of insulin.


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