And welcome to the second post in a new series that we have started on this blog called “This Week in History…”, a weekly series in which we explore a significant event in the history of medicine, science or philosophy that occurred during a specific week! This week, we’re going to be looking at the week beginning January 4th, and featured this week it’s the first use of insulin to treat a human diabetes patient on 11th January, 1922.
Insulin is a peptide hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. It can be used in treating diabetes, as it allows the user to regulate the amount of glucose in their blood, by helping the body to store sugar as fat, aiding the metabolism of glucose and, by extension, the amount of energy received by the muscles and other organs. People with Type 1 Diabetes cannot make insulin, because the beta cells in their pancreas are damaged or destroyed, and therefore rely upon regular insulin injections as a means of processing the glucose in their bodies. Insulin was originally extracted from bovine pancreas samples, but is now genetically-engineered and ‘synthesized’ in laboratory conditions.
Frederick Banting and Charles Best first began extracting and testing ‘isletin’ (what would later become known as ‘insulin’) on dogs in 1921. The pair then brought their findings to J. J. R. MacLeod at the University of Toronto, who pointed out the flaws in their experiment’s design, and recommended that they repeat it with more dogs and better equipment, offering them a salary to do so. After some considerable adjustment to their experiments, Banting and Best deemed themselves to be ready for a clinical trial.
On 11th January, 1922, 14-year-old Leonard Thompson, a diabetic who lay dying at the Toronto General Hospital, provided Banting and Best with the perfetct subject for the first human injection of insulin, that they had extracted from bovine test subjects. The first extract was given to him in the hopes of alleviating his symptoms, but the extract was so impure that Thompson suffered a severe allergic reaction and treatment was cancelled. On January 23rd, a new extract was given to Thompson, this time without any adverse side effects and alleviating the symptoms of his diabetes. A short time later, Banting and Best walked through a ward of children dying from diabetic ketoacidosis, injecting them all in turn with their insulin extract. The children all awoke one by one as the symptoms of their diabetes were alleviated and, thus, the use of insulin in the treatment of diabetes was born.
Well, that concludes the second post in the “This Week in History” series, we hope you had fun reading about the extraction of the first sample of insulin from bovine pancreases. Keep your eyes on bloodbonesandbodies for more medicine-related intrigue and, until next week, goodbye!
That’s all for now,