Posts Tagged ‘disease’

Dr Frederick Banting - pioneer of insulin treatment

This week marks the 90th anniversary of the discovery and isolation of insulin by Dr Frederick Banting, a discovery that has saved and improved the lives of millions of diabetics.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious disease that affects over 250 million people globally, in which the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin (Type 1) or doesn’t respond to the insulin that is produced (Type 2). This leads to a high blood sugar level, and this causes a variety of medical problems if not managed. 90% of cases are Type 2 diabetes.

 
What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It plays a central role in controlling and regulating the amount of glucose in the blood. It does this by causing cells in the liver (and some other cell types) to store the glucose as glycogen. Insulin is injected by Type 1 diabetics as part of their treatment. Type 2 diabetics may sometimes need to inject insulin, but their treatment and management focuses mainly on lifestyle and diet control.

How was insulin discovered?

Before insulin was discovered, diabetes caused death in nearly all cases. The only treatment available was a strict controlled diet and this only gave the patient a few more years. In the 19th century a German medical student called Paul Langerhans had identified a set of cells in the pancreas that didn’t seem to have a function. (These were later identified as beta-cells which produce insulin). A few years later two other German scientists showed that the pancreas was involved in controlling blood-sugar, because they found that dogs that had their pancreas removed developed diabetes.

Location of the pancreas

In 1920 Dr. Frederick Banting, a Canadian surgeon in Toronto, developed a process for isolating a secretion from the pancreas that was shown to prevent diabetes when injected into dogs that had had their pancreas removed. With this isolated secretion now named ‘insulin’, Dr Banting and his team started testing on human subjects, beginning with themselves. They managed to develop the correct dosage and in January 1922 gave insulin to a 14 year old diabetic boy, Leonard Thompson. The insulin worked perfectly, and Leonard recoverd from near-death. In 1923 Banting was awarded a joint Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine and a medical company went on to mass produce insulin.

Leonard Thompson - the first person to receive insulin.

Whilst insulin doesn’t cure diabetes, it means diabetics are able to regulate their blood glucose levels and stay alive. Perhaps you’ll agree that the discovery of this treatment is one of the great medical advances of the 20th century.