A Brief History, Part 2

Over the years therapies included a high fat and protein diet (which was on the right track,because it reduced the number of sugar-producing starches), eating excessive amounts of sugar (wrong track), an “oat cure” where the patient would eat 8 ounces of butter mixed with 8 ounces of oatmeal, opium or a whiskey/black coffee cocktail every two hours. Some were moderately successful in helping temper the symptoms by restricting food consumption and reducing the amount of sugar in the bloodstream, but undereating could cause death by starvation.

Nothing worked. sometimes the symptoms got temporarily better and other times they got devastatingly worse, but it remained a mysterious fatal disease no matter what was tried.

An opportunity to explain the disease was missed in 1709, when Swiss doctor and researcher Johann Brunner experimented with removing the pancreases from dogs. They became extremely thirsty and urinated excessively, which were known to be the classic symptoms of diabetes, but Brunner didn’t see the link.

Finally, in 1889, scientists researching digestion removed the pancreas from a dog. The animal became diabetic and a huge clue was discovered – partly by accident. The dog’s excessive urination was noticed when a lazy janitor didn’t clean up the mess. Scientist Oskar Minkowski checked the urine for sugar – and found it. This proved that the pancreas – and not the kidneys as some had suspected – was the source of whatever controlled blood sugar.

Dr. Georg Zuelzer extracted the substance from animal pancreases, called it “Acomatrol” and injected it into a comatose diabetic patient. The patient rallied but died when the small supply of what would later be called insulin ran out. This showed that insulin did, in fact, lower blood sugar. But problems cropped up in later experiments, like painful abscesses, fevers and the mysterious, scary symptoms of insulin reactions.

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