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Insulin, the “Elixir of Life”, completes 100 years of Discovery – Portal Diabetes & Você

    Insulin, the "Elixir of Life", completes 100 years of Discovery - Portal Diabetes & Você

    the insulin, the “Elixir of Life”, celebrates 100 years of discovery on July 27, 2021. To tell the story of insulin, we must go back to the 19th century. But what we cannot fail to highlight here is that the discovery of Frederick Banting and Charles Best, in 1921, in Canada, it revolutionized the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes, since all people diagnosed with diabetes, who required daily insulin injections before this date, were sentenced to death. These people were starved and died early.

    Understand what type of diabetes needs insulin to live

    The beginning of the discovery of insulin.

    In 1869, Paul Langerhans, a medical student in Berlin, discovers a distinct collection of cells within the pancreas. These cells would later be called islets of Langerhans.

    Some 20 years later, Oscar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering removed a dog’s pancreas to study the effects on digestion, and when they observed flies feeding on the dog’s urine, they found sugar there.

    In 1901, Eugene Opie discovered that the cells of the islets of Langerhans are responsible for the production of insulin by the pancreas and that the destruction of these cells results in diabetes.

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    After the discovery that the pancreas was responsible for the development of diabetes, further experiments were carried out. In the second decade of the 20th century, the use of pancreatic extract showed that it was possible to lower blood sugar in diabetic dogs. With the outbreak of the First World War these experiments stopped.
    continue until 1921.

    How should I store my insulin?

    How were the insulin discovery experiments?

    Have you heard the saying “Curiosity killed the cat?” When we talk about the discovery of insulin, I should play on words and say that “Curiosity killed the dog”. Will we understand why?

    In early 1921, Dr. Frederick Banting, an unknown physician, brought Professor John Macleod of the University of Toronto an idea of ​​how to extract from the pancreas the substance that would be capable of controlling blood sugar. Macleod, who was a leading figure in the Canadian study of diabetes, provided a laboratory with minimal equipment and ten dogs to Dr. Banting who, along with an assistant, a medical student named Charles Best, began the experiments in the summer of that year. year.

    Frederick Bating and Charles Best - 100 years since the discovery of insulin
    Frederick Banting on the left and Charles Best on the right, with one of the diabetic dogs used in the insulin experiments.

    Banting and Best began their experiments by removing a dog’s pancreas, obtaining the following result:

    • Increased blood sugar levels.
    • The dog became thirstier, drank more water, and urinated more than usual.
    • He grew weaker and weaker.
    • Conclusion the dog had developed diabetes.

    In another dog, they surgically stopped the flow of nutrients to the pancreas so that it would degenerate. After a while, they removed the pancreas, chopped it up, and froze the pieces in a mixture of water and salts. After freezing, the pieces were ground and filtered. The isolated substance was named “isletin”.

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    This extract was injected into the diabetic dog, lowering blood sugar levels and leaving it looking healthier and stronger. By giving the diabetic dog a few injections a day, Banting and Best were able to keep him healthy and symptom-free.

    What came after the dogs?

    To achieve higher extract production, they began using bovine pancreas. In this way, they produced enough extract to keep several diabetic dogs alive.

    They named this new extract Insulin. At the end of 1921, a third person, the biochemist Bertram Collip, joined the team. Collip was given the task of trying to purify the insulin so that it would be clean enough to test on humans.

    But the human test had not yet been done, so Banting and Best injected themselves with the insulin extract. They felt weak and dizzy (symptoms of hypoglycemia), but their health was not affected.

    In January 1922, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy with type 1 diabetes, was the first patient to receive insulin as a form of treatment. The test was a success. Leonard, who was near death before the insulin injections, quickly regained his strength and appetite. He lived another 13 years before succumbing to pneumonia.

    Leonard Thompson before and after starting insulin treatment for diabetes
    Leonard Thompson before and after starting insulin treatment for diabetes

    The news soon spread, and several people with diabetes volunteered to receive the insulin injections.


    In 1923, the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly began large-scale production of bovine insulin.

    First insulin marketed by Eli Lilly-Iletin
    First insulin marketed by Eli Lilly-Iletin

    Frederick G. Banting and John Macleod received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923 “for the discovery of insulin.”

    Although insulin is not a cure for diabetes, it is one of the greatest discoveries in medicine. When it arrived, it was like a miracle. People with severe diabetes were saved, and only days to live. And as long as they continued to receive insulin, they could live a near-normal life.

    Access the history of insulin at the University of Toronto

    Want to know more about injectable medications and diabetes?

    Most people believe that the only injectable medicine to treat diabetes is insulin, the world of injectable diabetes medicine has outgrown this aspect. We have drugs to treat severe hypoglycemia, drugs that regulate type 2 diabetes, as well as help with weight loss.

    To clarify these doubts and make everything clearer, I have created a 100% online course, with recorded classes that you can access from wherever you want, as long as you have an internet connection.

    For more details, click the button below:


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