A Brief History, Part 3

Charles Best and Dr. Frederick Banting

With research continuing, the name “insulin” was suggested for the curative pancreatic substance. Insulin means “island” and refers to the “Islets of Langerhans” which had been discovered by Paul Langerhans 40 years earlier. They were enclosed in a fibrous capsule that separated them from the rest of the pancreatic tissue. , so they really are islands within the organ. The islets turned out to be home to the beta cells that produced the magic hormone.

Frederick Banting, a Canadian medical doctor, suspected that earlier insulin extracts were compromised by enzymes during removal. In 1921, he and assistant Charles Best began working to find out. Within a year, Banting’s purer insulin was injected into a 14 year-old boy. The test was successful and within the year the University of Toronto contracted with Eli Lilly & Co. to mass produce insulin. An effective treatment was finally available. Banting, Best and Minkowski all won Nobel Prizes for helping solve a medical mystery that had devastated mankind for thousands of years.

Since then therapies, equipment, monitoring devices and management have improved in hundreds of ways, Real-time home blood glucose monitoring is routine, human insulin has been synthesized and pump technology perfected. The “artificial pancreas” that has been dreamed of for decades is now a reality. The work continues to offer diabetics ever-improving lifestyles and life expectancies that were impossible as recently as the 1920s.

Even with great care, diabetes is no walk in the park. But thanks to researchers over the centuries, we now truly have a fighting chance to live and live well.

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