On today’s date in 1922, researchers completed the first successful test on a human patient with diabetes when a second dose of insulin was administered to Leonard Thompson.
About two weeks earlier, Thompson—only 14 years old—received his first injection in Toronto, according to Diabetes.co.uk. The first injection had an apparent impurity, which was likely the cause of an allergic reaction; however, following a refining process developed by Dr. James Collip, who obtained a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto in 1916, the injection’s canine pancreas extract was improved.
The second, improved dosage was successfully delivered to Thompson 12 days after the first injection. Thompson’s health improved, and he lived another 13 years—while taking regular insulin doses—before dying of pneumonia at the age of 27.
REVERSING A DEATH SENTENCE
Until insulin was made clinically available, a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence, and usually a quick one—sometimes death came within months, but frequently, it happened in weeks or even days.
Following the birth of an idea and nine months of experimentation, and through the combined efforts of four men at the University of Toronto; insulin for the treatment of diabetes was discovered and purified for human use.
Rural Canadian physician Dr. Frederick Banting conceived the idea of extracting insulin from the pancreas in 1920. He and his assistant Charles Best prepared pancreatic extracts to prolong the lives of diabetic dogs with advice and laboratory aid from Professor John Macleod. The crude insulin extract was purified for human testing by the aforementioned Dr. Collip.
Insulin—now made from cattle pancreas—reversed the death sentence for diabetes patients around the world.
1971 INSULIN STAMP
In 1971, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) issued a six-cent stamp (Scott #533) celebrating the isolation of insulin.
According to a press release issued by the department in 1971, the “unique characteristics of this stamp prompted the following comments from members of the Canada Post Office Design Advisory Committee.”
“We recognized an immediate difficulty in trying to find a design to commemorate the discovery of something that in itself could not be illustrated. One possibility which occurred to us was a drawing or photograph of the original laboratory in which Banting and Best worked and which is now preserved at the Ontario Science Centre. We turned to Mr. Ray Webber as a man who is particularly able to give life to inanimate objects and he certainly surpassed our expectations. In this photograph, which we believe is a first in stamp design, Webber has taken actual instruments and materials used by Banting and Best to create a still life of charm and beauty. It contains moreover, a feeling about the human act of discovery and it puts the viewer in direct touch with the minds and the hands of the scientists themselves.”
In 2000, Canada Post issued a 46-cent stamp commemorating Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Banting, whose discovery of a pancreatic extract called insulin has since saved the lives of millions of diabetics. The stamp was issued as part of Canada Post’s Millennium Collection.