Diabetes is a widespread disease. All of us know someone or the other who has diabetes. There are an estimated 150 million million people with diabetes worldwide. People who suffer from this disease depend a lot on insulin injections to regulate the amount of sugar in their blood. And insulin was discovered in the year 1921.
Before 1921 people with diabetes lived terrible lives. They were forced to starve because most foods increase the amount of sugar in the blood. And people who starved were prone to other illnesses. Most people died soon after getting diabetes.
Who was the person who discoved insulin? Who was the scientist who gave hope to the suffering millions worldwide? Today in VERITAS we turn the pages of medical history to find how insulin was discovered. And we find a remarkable story of a very stubborn young doctor.
Frederick Banting was born in the year 1891. He joined medical school and became a surgeon. He enlisted in the Medical Corps during world war I.
He suffered a serious injury during the war and his arm was about to be amputated.But he requested the doctor not to do it. The hands are very important for a surgeon. He was stubborn and he risked his life.
But everything went well and he recovered.
After the war he started his own practice. He was not successful.
He decided to become a part time lecturer in a local college. He became the lecturer of pharmacology (This is to make you regret not having taken this up Anjum! :-)). Now Banting had very little knowledge of pharmacology so he had to study a lot. During his studies he became interested in the subject of diabetes. In textbooks diabetes was listed as “fatal disease-remedy unknown”. Doctors knew that the pancreas are responsible for burning and thus checking the sugar in the blood. Doctors even tried to feed diabetic patients the pancreas of animals but it did not work. There was a chemical in the pancreas that did all the work.
But nobody knew how to isolate this chemical or how to administer this chemical.
Banting’s friend Joe Gilchrist was suffering from diabetes. He was starving himself and was dying a slow death. Bantin wanted to help.
Banting studied more and realized that scattered on the pancreas are small spots(islands) that shrink for people who suffer from diabetes. He thought that somewhere in these islands lies the secret and the treatment of diabetes. (These islands are called Isles of Langerhans).
Banting decided to try and find the chemical that does all the sugar burning. He wanted to see what is inside these islands.
He requested permission to experiment on dogs. He knew that scientists were trying experiments for years on the pancreas but they had all failed. But he was stubborn. He sold off his furniture and bought surgical equipment. He hired a fresh doctor Charles Best to assist him. They started experiments on dogs. From 10 the number of dogs rose to 91. But still no result (VERITAS readers, patience is a very important attribute of a scientist!). The problem was that as soon as they removed the pancreas to study the island chemical the island chemical was destroyed by an enzyme in the pancreas. You had to first kill the enzyme to be able to get to the chemical in the islands. No one knew how to do this.
Banting found a way of doing this. He would tie the duct of the pancreas in living dogs. After a few weeks the pancreatic enzyme would die. At this time the pancreas can be removed and the chemical in the islands can be extracted. They tried this theory on the 92nd dog. They removed the dog’s pancreas. The dog started suffering from severe diabetes. At this time it was injected the island chamical taken out from the pancreas of another dog. And wow! the dog started barking and wagging its tail again! However the joy was shortlived. The dog died after 20 days due to severe diabetes. Banting had not given the dog enough of the island chemical.
So Banting had found the chemical that would control diabetes but he did not know the right amount to be injected? And he did not know how to obtain large amounts of this chemical. More research was needed.
This chemical was named insulin(latin for island chemical). And Banting found that cattle pancreas can yield a good supply of insulin.
He now started experiments on human patients. His friend Gilchrist was one of the first patients on whom this new treatment was tried.
The patients were administered insulin everyday and results noted.
The patients suffered no illusions: this was still an experiment. A dosage of insulin taken in very small quantities is ineffective. The dosage taken in large quantities is dangerous and patient can die of convulsions. So the experiments was to find the right quantity to be administered. Banting’s research found the right quantity.
Eminent people like King George V of England, HG Wells and Dr. George Minot were saved from death due to diabetes by Banting and his team. Thanks to the insulin Dr Minot was spared to discover an equally important treatment: liver treatment for pernicious anaemia.
Banting became famous and received the Nobel Prize. One man’s stubbornness (it is no joke cutting up 92 dogs and waiting for weeks on each dog) helped millions live normal lives.
One remarkabe thing about true scientists is that they spend their lives solving problems which they themselves do not know can be solved.
In Science you cannot make project plans… no .mpp files. You have to to base your work on passion and love for knowledge. The results may never come so you have to be happy in your constant pursuit of knowledge.
(Most of the information for this VERITAS has been taken from:
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