Insulin: The Canadian discovery that has saved millions of lives
Insulin forever changed what it meant to be diagnosed with diabetes. André Picard looks at one of medicine's most significant advances, and the researchers – two recognized with a Nobel Prize and two more overlooked – who chose to never make a profit from their miracle drug
As part of the 150th anniversary of Canada's confederation, The Globe and Mail looks at the Canadians, products and discoveries that changed the world.
When he was admitted to Toronto General Hospital in December, 1921, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old with juvenile diabetes, was barely clinging to life. He weighed just 65 pounds and despite a starvation diet of 450 calories a day – the only treatment available at the time – his blood glucose was dangerously high.
On Jan. 22, 1922, Leonard was injected with an experimental treatment called isletin. The impact was negligible.
But, 12 days later, researchers tried again. After the injection, Leonard's blood glucose fell dramatically, to 6.7 millimoles per litre from 28.9 mmol/L. He was discharged from hospital and began to eat more and gain weight.
Within days, six other desperately ill Toronto children received a similar injection, with the same miraculous results. As long as they took an injection daily, their symptoms were largely kept in check.
That drug, renamed insulin, forever changed the lives of people with diabetes. It is one of the great medical discoveries of all times, a Canadian innovation that has saved millions of lives.
Before insulin, children with juvenile diabetes (now called Type 1) lived only 1.4 years on average after diagnos Continue reading