We R the Cure

Seeking Cures and Cheating Destiny

Discovery of Insulin: It’s not a cure, but it sure beats death


This blog is dedicated to a future of high tech products, better treatment solutions and, one day, real cures for persons living with autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes. Before we can look forward, we need to stop and pay our respect to two Canadians and their laboratory dogs!

This month marks the 90th anniversary of the discovery of insulin by Canadian scientists Fred Banting and Charles Best.

As a person with Type 1 diabetes, I owe these men and many other scientists my life. Actually, about 4 million people living today are in debt to these trailblazers.

Fred Banting and Charles Best Discover Insulin

Canadian Scientists Fred Banting and Charles Best Discovered Insulin in 1922. Photo courtesy University of Toronto.

Although it is true — Insulin is not a cure for Type 1 diabetes — imagine the starvation deaths  suffered before the discovery of insulin in 1922. In fact, my favorite diabetes book, “Cheating Destiny,” writer James S. Hirsch tells the horror stories of children and adults living a “disgusting and painful” death from diabetes. In the early 1900s, doctors knew that sugar worsened the condition of diabetic patients and that the most effective treatment was to put the patients on very strict diets where sugar intake was limited.  At best, this treatment would buy patients a few extra years, but it never saved them. In some cases, the diets even caused patients to die of starvation.

“The Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia offered the first accurate account of diabetes in the first century A.D., noting the distinctively gruesome fashion in which some patients withered away. He called their demise, the ‘melting down of the flesh and limbs into urine. Life is disgusting and painful.’ Diabetes’ signature symptom was polyuria or excessive urine. When blood sugar levels rise, the body draws water from its tissues to purge the sugar through its urine.”

This is why children and adults may lose 50% or more of their body weight in the initial weeks of the autoimmune disorder hitting. Your body is, basically, releasing excess sugar AND the food you need to stay alive. In my case, I lost 16-17 pounds in about 4 to 6 weeks before I finally dragged myself to Dr. G. V. Puster for my diagnosis! I made many rushed trips — running at full speed — to get to a bath room. And hoping that I would not wet my pants. It was a hit-or-miss race. Ugh. Fun times.

So, let’s celebrate the discovery of insulin. One of the most revolutionary moments in medicine. Though it took some time to work out proper dosages and to develop manufacturing processes to make enough insulin of consistent strength and purity, the introduction of insulin seemed literally like a miracle. One year the disease was an automatic death sentence; the next, people — even children — had hopes of living full and productive lives even with the disease. Wellcome's insulin Ad in 1923

Now, we stand on the water’s edge. Waiting for the next miracle. If you want to participate in miracles, then you need to get involved in a human clinical trial. Miracles like the artificial pancreas, beta cell regeneration and smart insulin are sitting on the horizon. So don’t wait on the shoreline. Jump in. Become a “research dog.”

Coming up next week, I’ll post details on how to find and enroll in a clinical trial.


Author: werthecure01

Diabetes doesn't define me; it inspires me to define the future for individuals living with autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes. -- Mike Anderson, diagnosed 1998.

2 thoughts on “Discovery of Insulin: It’s not a cure, but it sure beats death

  1. Love this acknowledgement of the pioneers before us…and the encouragement to be an active part of the solution ourselves today! I will save this blog as a reminder that I need to make more time to contribute to the cause…thanks!

  2. Thanks to scientific research and the discovery of insulin, people are living and thriving with this chronic disease. But let’s not forget, Type 1 diabetics may look “healthy on the outside,” but they are fighting a life-threatening disorder on the “INSIDE.” The search for better solutions and more funds for research — must continue.

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