Makings of a Miracle

October 31, 1920, 2:00 AM

“Ligate pancreatic ducts of dogs. Wait six to eight weeks for degeneration.
Remove the residue and extract” (Bankston 27).
The idea kept Dr. Frederick Banting awake for hours. He climbed out of bed early to jot these words down. Banting later approached a physiologist at the University of Toronto, John Macleod, with his idea. Banting later wrote, "I told him that I had given up everything I had in the world to do the research, and that I was going to do it, and that if he did not provide what I asked I would go some place where they would" (Bliss 82).

The Experiments Begin

Best and Banting with lab dog (Yuwiler 43)
Macleod furnished Banting with lab space and equipment in summer 1921 (Lerner). Banting was given a lab partner, medical student Charles Herbert Best. Best recalled in a World Health magazine interview 50 years later, "...he was a surgeon, and so needed somebody else with experience in biochemistry and physiology to help him. I had just graduated with a degree in those two subjects, and I was interested in diabetes. So that was the way the whole thing started" (Candau 4).
     Banting and Best began their experiments in May 1921. Banting tied off the dogs' pancreases, giving them diabetes (Lerner). At the end of July, a tied off pancreas was removed and mixed with a saline solution to be injected in the diabetic dog. Banting later described:

Following the intravenous injection the blood sugars of the depancreatized dogs were reduced to normal or subnormal level, and the urine became sugar free. There was a marked improvement in the general clinical condition as evidenced by the fact that the animals became stronger and more lively, the broken down wounds healed more kindly, and the life of the animal was undoubtedly prolonged. (Banting 4)
    The diabetic dogs who did not receive the extract died within a few weeks. The treated dog lived seventy days (Bliss 12). The first name given to the discovery was "Isletin", but Macleod suggested changing it to insulin because, "He believed isletin's name didn't roll off the tongue, nor was it easy to spell," (Bankston 45). After lengthy tests and frustrating problems, insulin's role in diabetes was confirmed.
(Insulin. Greatest Discoveries with Bill Nye: Medicine, 2005)
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