Insulin Was First Used To Treat Diabetes

On Jan. 11, 1922 fourteen-year-old Leonard Thompson was injected with a pancreatic extract prepared by Dr. Frederick Banting, and medical student, Charles Best.

Although his blood sugars went down a little, there was not a lot of change following Thompson’s initial injection, according to the University of Toronto’s heritage website.

But biochemist Bert Collip, who had been working with Banting and Best in a lab provided by the university’s head physiologist, Prof. J.J.R.. Macleod, developed a method to refine the extract and daily injections of this extract started Jan. 23. Improvement was immediate and remarkable. The boy’s blood sugar levels dropped to normal levels (Thompson would live another 13 years with daily injections of insulin, before dying of tuberculosis.)

It was not a cure but it was a monumental breakthrough in treatment for what had been an untreatable disease.

In March, 1922 a paper describing the case of Leonard Thompson, and six other patients the Banting and Best team treated with the refined extract, was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It was the first official announcement of an extract developed to alleviate the symptoms of diabetes.

“A message of hope to sufferers from diabetes goes out authentically today from the medical research laboratories of the University of Toronto. The modesty of medical men and scientific investigators of the genuine brand attempts to minimize the results obtained. The harm of exaggeration and the injustice to both parents and research men in awakening false and premature hopes before the extracts can possibly be manufactured cannot be over-emphasized. But the fact remains that one of the most important discoveries in modern medical research has been made at the university here. It is not a cure for diabetes, its authors state. Within six months, however, their discovery will be used on a large scale, they hope, to prolong life quite considerably at least. There will be no secrecy, as from the beginning. The medical profession will know all the facts.”
— The Toronto Daily Star - March 22, 1922 Edition