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Banting & Best: The Discovery of Insulin

By: UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence
Banting and Best with the first dog ever treated with insulin

July 27 marks one of the most important days in diabetes treatment history.  On that date in 1921, Dr. Frederick Banting, a Canadian surgeon and Charles Best, a medical student, successfully isolated the hormone insulin for the first time.  

The breakthrough research took place at the University of Toronto, where Banting and Best successfully isolated insulin from dogs, produced diabetes symptoms in the animals, and then provided insulin injections that produced normal blood glucose levels. Dr. Banting shared his success with Professor John Macleod. 

Insulin treatment begins for humans 

Plans were quickly underway for an insulin treatment for people. Next, they extracted insulin from the pancreases of cattle at slaughterhouses. On January 11, 1922, 14-year-old Leonard Thompson became the first person to receive an insulin injection as treatment for diabetes. The first caused an allergic reaction. A refined process was quickly developed to improve the cow pancreas from which the insulin was derived, and Thompson's second dosage was successfully delivered twelve days later on January 23. The teenager’s condition improved dramatically. Diabetes, which had been regarded as a fatal disease, could finally be managed! 

Nobel Prize awarded to Banting and Macleod

By 1923, insulin had become widely available in mass production, and Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine. Charles Best, being a graduate student, was not included.  Banting recognized Best's involvement by sharing the award money.

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