On July 27, 1921, Dr. Frederick Banting, a Canadian surgeon and Charles Best, a medical student, isolated the hormone insulin for the first time, helping millions across the world fight diabetes. The two men made their breakthrough while performing research at the University of Toronto.
During the early 1920s, diabetes was a devastating and often fatal disease. People suffering from diabetes could not effectively regulate their blood sugar levels due to a lack of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. There was no successful treatment at the time, and the condition was a death sentence for those affected.
In their research at the University of Toronto, Banting and Best successfully isolated insulin from the pancreas of dogs and later from cattle. They refined the insulin extraction process and conducted experiments on diabetic dogs, proving that administering insulin effectively lowered their blood sugar levels. The results were groundbreaking and showed the potential to treat diabetes in humans.
“On January 11, 1922, 14-year-old Leonard Thompson became the first person to receive an insulin injection as a treatment for diabetes. Prior to that, people with Type 1 diabetes did not survive for more than a few weeks or months with the disease.
Thompson’s first dose had an apparent impurity which caused an allergic reaction. A refined process was quickly developed to improve the cow pancreas from which the insulin was derived, and his second dosage was successfully delivered twelve days later on January 23,” writes the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence.
“The Canadian teenager improved dramatically, and the University of Toronto immediately gave pharmaceutical companies license to produce insulin, free of royalties. By 1923, insulin had become widely available, saving countless lives around the world, and Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. To this day, it’s still the quickest that a Nobel Prize was awarded following the discovery of a medical breakthrough.”
Almost overnight, a disease that was a death sentence for young patients became manageable. The discovery of insulin transformed diabetes from a fatal condition to a manageable disease. Banting and Best’s work revolutionized medicine, revealed the power of lab-based medical research, and saved countless lives while improving the quality of life for millions of people around the world.
In recognition of their contributions, Frederick Banting and John Macleod (the professor at the University of Toronto who provided the laboratory for their research) jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923.