Updated:
Original:
Year
1921

Scientists successfully isolate insulin

At the University of Toronto, Canadian scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best successfully isolate insulin–a hormone they believe could prevent diabetes–for the first time. Within a year, the first human sufferers of diabetes were receiving insulin treatments, and countless lives were saved from what was previously regarded as a fatal disease.

Diabetes has been recognized as a distinct medical condition for more than 3,000 years, but its exact cause was a mystery until the 20th century. By the early 1920s, many researchers strongly suspected that diabetes was caused by a malfunction in the digestive system related to the pancreas gland, a small organ that sits near the liver. At that time, the only way to treat the fatal disease was through a diet low in carbohydrates and sugar and high in fat and protein. Instead of dying shortly after diagnosis, this diet allowed diabetics to live–for about a year.

A breakthrough came at the University of Toronto in the summer of 1921, when Canadians Frederick Banting and Charles Best successfully isolated insulin from canine test subjects, produced diabetic symptoms in the animals, and then began a program of insulin injections that returned the dogs to normalcy. On November 14, the discovery was announced to the world.

Two months later, with the support of J.J.R. MacLeod of the University of Toronto, the two scientists began preparations for an insulin treatment of a human subject. Enlisting the aid of biochemist J.B. Collip, they were able to extract a reasonably pure formula of insulin from the pancreases of cattle from slaughterhouses. On January 23, 1921, they began treating 14-year-old Leonard Thompson with insulin injections. The diabetic teenager improved dramatically, and the University of Toronto immediately gave pharmaceutical companies license to produce insulin, free of royalties. By 1923, insulin had become widely available, and Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Robespierre overthrown in France

Maximilien Robespierre, the architect of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, is overthrown and arrested by the National Convention. As the leading member of the Committee of Public Safety from 1793, Robespierre encouraged the execution, mostly by guillotine, of more than ...read more

Bombing at Centennial Olympic Park

In Atlanta, Georgia, the XXVI Summer Olympiad is disrupted by the explosion of a nail-laden pipe bomb in Centennial Olympic Park. The bombing, which occurred during a free concert, killed a mother who had brought her daughter to hear the rock music and injured more than 100 ...read more

House begins impeachment of Nixon

On this day in 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommends that America’s 37th president, Richard M. Nixon, be impeached and removed from office. The impeachment proceedings resulted from a series of political scandals involving the Nixon administration that came to be ...read more

Six-year-old Adam Walsh is abducted

Adam John Walsh, age six, is abducted from a mall in Hollywood, Florida, and later found murdered. In the aftermath of the crime, Adam’s father, John Walsh, became a leading victims’ rights activist and host of the long-running television show America’s Most Wanted. Early in the ...read more

Armistice ends the Korean War

After three years of a bloody and frustrating war, the United States, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, and South Korea agree to an armistice, bringing the Korean War to an end. The armistice ended America’s first experiment with the Cold War concept of “limited war.” ...read more