November 14, 2017 By Kylie Smith
Insulin: Dr. Banting’s Legacy

Dr. Frederick Banting discovered insulin 96 years ago and today, it is still the best treatment available for diabetes. In 1923, he and Prof. J. J. R. Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize.

When Dr. Banting and his team began distributing insulin in the early 1920s, it was not a perfect solution for diabetes. The first insulin Dr. Banting gave to his patients was short-acting, impure and had to be injected with syringes twice daily. While it saved their lives, patients also had to deal with pain and abscesses.

Since then, many doctors and researchers have worked tirelessly to innovate and improve upon insulin treatment. In 1936, Hans Christian Hagedorn, a Danish doctor, discovered a way to make longer-lasting insulin. Midway through the century Frederick Sanger, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, identified the structure of proteins, including insulin in order to better understand the insulin molecule. For this work, he was given the Nobel Prize in 1958.

in 1963, Insulin became the first human protein to be fully synthesized. The same year, distribution became much easier with the invention of the insulin pump by Dr. Arnold Kadish. The first insulin pump was large, and was designed to be worn as a backpack (see the photo above featuring Dr. Kadish). Today, for many people with diabetes, the modern insulin pump is a much better way of delivering insulin – the amount you take is measured for your lifestyle.

Insulin made history once again as it became the first human protein to be manufactured biosynthetically (through a living organism) in 1978, This meant that insulin was more reliable when it was injected into the human body, unlike previous batches that had come from pig and cow pancreases.

Hopefully one day we will find a cure for diabetes, and the Flame of Hope outside Banting House National Historic Site of Canada (the birthplace of insulin) will be extinguished. But until then, researchers will keep innovating and improving upon Dr. Banting’s idea that changed the world.

A former intern at Banting House National Historic Site of Canada, Kylie Smith graduated with a B.A. in history and anthropology and B.Ed from The University of Western Ontario.

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