How does insulin work?
For your body to use glucose, the fuel that comes from carbohydrates, it must be transferred from the blood to your body’s cells to be used up as energy. The vital hormone that allows glucose to enter cells is called insulin and it is normally produced naturally in the pancreas. If this process doesn’t happen, the level of sugar in the blood becomes too high. Being unable to naturally produce insulin is the disease known as diabetes. More than 4 million people in the UK are diagnosed with it, and it is a major cause of kidney failure, heart attacks and blindness.
Who was Sir Frederick Banting?
Frederick Banting was born on November 14 1891 in Alliston, a settlement in the Canadian province of Ontario. He served in the First World War despite initially being refused while in medical school for poor eyesight since the army wanted more doctors on the front line.
How insulin came to treat humans
Sir Frederick got to work on looking into the matter further and in 1921 the University of Toronto gave him 10 dogs on which to practise. On one dog, the pancreas was removed, resulting in it getting diabetes. On another test subject, Sir Frederick removed the dog’s pancreas but ground the pancreas up and created an injection. Giving the diabetic dog a few injections a day kept it healthy.
Nobel Prize recognition
The discovery of the drug was seen as a miracle, saving millions of lives. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Sir Frederick and John Macleod, who had helped the research get funded, in 1923. King George V knighted Sir Frederick in 1934.
Diabetes and insulin today
Today, insulin is produced by growing bacteria, although pig pancreases were used for a long time until the 1980s. According to the World Health Organisation, 422 million people had been diagnosed with diabetes in 2014 and the global prevalence had risen from 4.7 per cent in 1980 to 8.5 per cent. However, around the world, half of those with diabetes are not diagnosed.
The WHO predicts that it will be the 7th leading cause of death in 2030. There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 is when the body attacks the cells that produce insulin while Type 2 is when the body does not respond to insulin.