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DIABETES THROUGH THE AGES: THE HUNT FOR THE HORMONE

Soon after the end of “World War I, a young Canadian orthopedic surgeon named Frederick Banting read about the experiments in which the ducts of the pancreas were tied off. He was particularly interested in diabetes because a neighbor’s child had recently died of the disease. Banting believed that extracts of the pancreas had not yielded an active hormone because the powerful digestive enzymes of the pancreas must be breaking down the islet hormone during the extraction process. If the ducts were first tied off, the digestive portion of the pancreas would shrivel and stop producing its digestive juices. Then the hormone could be extracted without being destroyed in the process.
To test his idea, Banting needed a laboratory. He went to the chief of biochemistry at the University of Toronto, Professor John J. R. Macleod, to ask for support. At first Macleod refused because funds were scarce. But Banting was persuasive, and he was given a lab and a graduate student named Charles Best to help with the experiments.
Banting and Best removed the pancreases of several experimental dogs. They injected extracts from these organs into the veins of normal dogs. The dogs’ blood sugar levels fell. Next the researchers injected the extract into dogs previously made diabetic by removal of the pancreas. Their blood sugar level fell, too! In fact, if enough of the extract was injected, the blood sugar level dropped below normal. Banting and Best wanted to call their hormone extract “isletin,” but Professor Macleod insisted that the older name insulin be used.
Banting and Best tried insulin injections on human patients at Toronto General Hospital in 1921. Their first patient was a fourteen-year-old boy named Leonard Thompson. His diabetes had been diagnosed two years before, and doctors had used the only treatment they knew of—a starvation diet of only 450 calories a day. The boy was still alive, but just barely; he weighed only seventy-five pounds. The insulin injections brought his blood sugar level down dramatically. He was able to eat a more normal diet, gained weight, and lived to maturity.
Banting presented a paper on his discovery at the 1921 meeting of the Association of American Physicians, and interest in insulin grew. Macleod assigned his whole staff to work on the problems of isolating insulin and experimenting with it. At first it took half a pound of steer pancreas to produce enough insulin to treat one patient for two weeks. But Best developed methods for large-scale production. Soon commercial manufacturers were producing supplies of the hormone for doctors to use on diabetic patients all around the world.
The 1923 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded to Banting and Macleod for the insulin breakthrough. Banting was furious. He and Charles Best had done all the work on the basic discovery, yet Best was not even mentioned in the award. At first Banting refused to accept the prize, but eventually he did, and he immediately gave half of his $25,000 share of the award to Best.
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DIABETES THROUGH THE AGES: THE HUNT FOR THE HORMONESoon after the end of “World War I, a young Canadian orthopedic surgeon named Frederick Banting read about the experiments in which the ducts of the pancreas were tied off. He was particularly interested in diabetes because a neighbor’s child had recently died of the disease. Banting believed that extracts of the pancreas had not yielded an active hormone because the powerful digestive enzymes of the pancreas must be breaking down the islet hormone during the extraction process. If the ducts were first tied off, the digestive portion of the pancreas would shrivel and stop producing its digestive juices. Then the hormone could be extracted without being destroyed in the process.To test his idea, Banting needed a laboratory. He went to the chief of biochemistry at the University of Toronto, Professor John J. R. Macleod, to ask for support. At first Macleod refused because funds were scarce. But Banting was persuasive, and he was given a lab and a graduate student named Charles Best to help with the experiments.Banting and Best removed the pancreases of several experimental dogs. They injected extracts from these organs into the veins of normal dogs. The dogs’ blood sugar levels fell. Next the researchers injected the extract into dogs previously made diabetic by removal of the pancreas. Their blood sugar level fell, too! In fact, if enough of the extract was injected, the blood sugar level dropped below normal. Banting and Best wanted to call their hormone extract “isletin,” but Professor Macleod insisted that the older name insulin be used.Banting and Best tried insulin injections on human patients at Toronto General Hospital in 1921. Their first patient was a fourteen-year-old boy named Leonard Thompson. His diabetes had been diagnosed two years before, and doctors had used the only treatment they knew of—a starvation diet of only 450 calories a day. The boy was still alive, but just barely; he weighed only seventy-five pounds. The insulin injections brought his blood sugar level down dramatically. He was able to eat a more normal diet, gained weight, and lived to maturity.Banting presented a paper on his discovery at the 1921 meeting of the Association of American Physicians, and interest in insulin grew. Macleod assigned his whole staff to work on the problems of isolating insulin and experimenting with it. At first it took half a pound of steer pancreas to produce enough insulin to treat one patient for two weeks. But Best developed methods for large-scale production. Soon commercial manufacturers were producing supplies of the hormone for doctors to use on diabetic patients all around the world.The 1923 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded to Banting and Macleod for the insulin breakthrough. Banting was furious. He and Charles Best had done all the work on the basic discovery, yet Best was not even mentioned in the award. At first Banting refused to accept the prize, but eventually he did, and he immediately gave half of his $25,000 share of the award to Best.*6\268\2*

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 11th, 2011 at 10:34 am and is filed under Diabetes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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