the invention of insulin

The Invention of Insulin

Tuesday 14th November 2023 is Diabetes Day. And importantly it is approximately 100 years since insulin was invented!

Insulin, a hormone critical for regulating blood sugar levels in the human body, was discovered and first used as a treatment for diabetes in the early 20th century. The story of insulin's invention is a significant and life-changing breakthrough in medical history.

Here's a brief overview of how and when insulin was invented:

  1. Discovery of Diabetes:

    • Diabetes, a chronic condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels, had been recognized for centuries. However, effective treatments were lacking, and diabetes was often a fatal diagnosis.
  2. Contribution of Early Researchers:

    • Before the discovery of insulin, various researchers contributed to the understanding of diabetes. Notably, in the late 19th century, two scientists, Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering, conducted experiments that showed the link between the pancreas and diabetes. They removed the pancreas from dogs, leading to the development of diabetes symptoms in these animals.
  3. Discovery of Insulin:

    • The breakthrough in the discovery of insulin is primarily credited to a team of scientists at the University of Toronto in Canada. The team consisted of Frederick Banting, Charles Best, James Collip, and John Macleod. In 1921, Banting and Best successfully isolated insulin from the pancreas of dogs. This discovery was pivotal in understanding the role of insulin in regulating blood sugar.
  4. First Clinical Use:

    • The first successful clinical use of insulin took place in early 1922 at Toronto General Hospital. A 14-year-old boy named Leonard Thompson, who had severe diabetes, was the first patient to receive insulin injections. The results were dramatic, as his blood sugar levels improved significantly, and he showed remarkable recovery.
  5. Widespread Availability:

    • Following its initial success, the production and distribution of insulin quickly expanded. The University of Toronto granted pharmaceutical companies the right to manufacture insulin, which allowed for mass production. This made insulin more widely available to people with diabetes around the world.
  6. Nobel Prize:

    • In 1923, Frederick Banting and John Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their role in the discovery of insulin. Banting shared his prize money with Charles Best, recognizing Best's significant contribution.

The discovery of insulin revolutionised the treatment of diabetes and transformed it from a life-threatening condition to a manageable one. It marked a significant milestone in the history of medicine and has saved countless lives since its introduction.

Today, insulin remains a crucial medication for people with diabetes, and its production and formulations have continued to evolve to better meet the needs of patients.

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