The Amazing Discovery of Insulin

Almost a hundred years ago, before the discovery of insulin in 1921, there wasn’t much hope for people who had diabetes. The most effective treatment at that time was to put the patients in strict diets where sugar was kept to a minimum. Some patients even die of starvation.

We are very fortunate today, as a result of years of research and experiments, our scientists already has a huge amount of knowledge about diabetes. Diabetics can easily buy diabetic test strips, insulin and other diabetic supplies at local pharmacies to help them manage the disease.

Diabetes was first documented in an Egyptian manuscript in c. 1500 BCE which mentioned frequent urination as a symptom. Little was known about diabetes before. People who had diabetes didn’t live long and didn’t have the chance to feel and live a normal life. Diagnosis of diabetes was considered a death sentence. Aretaeus, an ancient Greek physician who gave the first complete clinical description of diabetes, commented that “life (with diabetes) is short, disgusting and painful.” (The History of Clinical Endocrinology – Victor Cornelius Medvei’ ). Historical documents from different countries show that physicians were aware of the condition but no one knew it’s cause ,treatment, and cure.

It was during in the nineteenth century that the function of the pancreas was discovered and the mystery of diabetes was slowly being put to light. Paul Langerhans, a German medical student was the first to identify tissues in the pancreas called “Islets of Langerhans”. It’s function was yet unknown but eventually it was shown to be the insulin-producing beta cells. The word insulin is from the word islet (insula in Latin) which means Island. In 1889, in an experiment Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering removed the pancreas of a dog and found that the dog developed symptoms of diabetes and died shortly afterward. This showed that the relationship of the pancreas and insulin.

It was not until 1921 that the hormone insulin was successfully isolated. A Canadian medical scientist, Dr. Frederick Banting, and his assistant Charles Best repeated the experiment of Minkowski and von Mering. They froze, grounded, and filtered the pancreas that was removed from the dog. The isolated subtance was the insulin. They injected it to the dog that developed diabetes and it’s blood sugar level went down. They later used the pancreases of cattles since they needed larger supplies. A biochemist, Bertram Collip later purified the insulin extract for it to be safe for the testing on humans. The first person to receive the injection of insulin was a 14 year old boy, Leonard Thompson, who lay dying at the Toronto General Hospital. At first, he suffered an allergic reaction but he was later given a second dose of insulin which was now improved and purified. And it was a success! His blood sugar levels dropped to near-normal levels. This was the beginning of the manufacture of insulin. It was the beginning of hope for millions of diabetics who could finally better manage their diabetes, feel more healthier and get a taste of how to live a normal life.

insulin syringe


For years, insulin from animals were used to treat diabetes. Today, there are many types of insulin. In the 1980′s synthetic human insulin has replaced insulin from cattles and pigs in the Unites States. And now Insulin Analogs (designed to mimic the body’s natural pattern of insulin release) is replacing synthetic human insulin.

Diabetes treatment just keeps better and better. The future is bright. Diabetes may still be incurable but we are definitely getting there.

Sell your diabetic testing strips today! A part of the proceeds goes to JDRF, an organization dedicated in funding Type 1 Diabetes Research.

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