The history of insulin as medical treatment started around 1921-22. Dr. Frederick Banting of Toronto University discovered in his research that the hormone could be used to treat diabetes. Other researchers who helped him were Charles Best and Dr. James Collip.
Early Research on Insulin
It was a Berlin student named Paul Langerhans who discovered insulin in the pancreas in 1869. Langerhans called it insulin which in German means islet or island, for that is what the hormones look like. Initially it was thought that insulin played a role in digesting food.
In 1889, a Polish-German scientist named Oscar Minkowski began studying the pancreas of the dog. When he took out the dog’s pancreas, he noticed flies kept going to the animal’s urine.
This would be pivotal in the history of insulin as the scientists learned there was sugar in the urine. They established the link between pancreas, sugar and diabetes. In 1901 Eugene Opie discovered that diabetes and insulin (or islets) were closely linked, and not just pancreas and diabetes.
Further Studies on Insulin
This discovery convinced scientists that insulin could be used to produce treatment for diabetes. Some of the early researchers who tried extracting it were George Zuelzer in 1906 and E.L. Scott of Chicago University in 1912.
However the outbreak of World War I interrupted research on insulin and diabetes. In 1921 a professor in Bucharest named Nicolae Paulescu became the first in the history of insulin to isolate it. While he patented his work, no clinical tests took place.
Banting’s work however, was the first that resulted in clinical testing. It took place in January 11, 1922. A 14 year old diabetic patient in Toronto was given an insulin injection. The injections were a success.
Word spread rapidly. Banting and his team would go to numerous hospitals and inject diabetics with insulin. Some of the patients were already in a coma, but upon injection they awakened.
Innovations after Banting
The success of Banting and his colleagues had a profound impact on the history of insulin. In 1923 Eli Lily produced purer forms of bovine insulin. The same year saw commercial insulin produced in Germany.
In 1926, Nordisk got the grant from the Danish charter so it could make insulin. Ten years later Hagedorn discovered that by adding some protamine, the effects of insulin would last even longer.
In 1955, Frederick Sanger unlocked the amino acid sequence of insulin, and in 1966, its structure was totally resolved using X ray crystallography. By 1973, the standard amount of insulin to be used was set in the US. It was set at 100 units for every millimeter.
Before the standardization, different amounts were used. Standardizing it reduced incidents of errors and mistakes when injecting. The standard was initially used in the US, but other countries eventually used it too.
The discovery and history of insulin is one of the most important in medicine. Its development has saved millions of lives and continues to make a difference today.