I know I harp on many of these so-called “holidays” that seem to riddle the calendar with every passing month. But this one just happens to be personal to me, for obvious reasons. Every year on November 14th, which is the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, we celebrate World Diabetes Day. November is already Diabetes Awareness Month in most medical circles, but today is a day where focus is brought to the growing number of people being diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes.
World Diabetes Day was created in 1991 but the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization, and is often recognized by the signature blue circle logo and is usually accompanied by a different theme every year. But rather than get into all the hubbub that is yet another yearly holiday, I thought it would be a good idea to remind folks about the actual discovery of insulin and a bit of its history.
As most may know, insulin is a peptide hormone created by beta cells inside the pancreas. Insulin helps with the processing and regulating of carbohydrates by absorbing glucose from the blood into various tissues of the body. Beta cells release insulin into the body in response to blood sugar levels, specifically high ones. Insulin plays a number of different roles outside of this, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll keep it simple.
Although the discovery of insulin is attributed to Sir Frederick Banting and his lab assistant, Charles Best, it should be noted that the road to insulin’s discovery started over 50 years before Banting made the discovery. The relationship between the pancreas and Diabetes was therefore established during the late 1860’s and 70’s, with a number of experimental treatments never quite hitting the mark. It also surprised me to discovery just how many of these experiments were performed on dogs. Whether this is because they constitute a large mammal or because they were simply available is beyond me. Oh, how they were different times!
Starting in the early 1920’s, Banting and Best began experimenting with islet cells and injecting them into a Diabetic dog, which resulted in a dramatic drop in blood sugar levels. In January of 1922, the first injections to human patients were given and the rest is history. Banting won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923, for the discovery of insulin. He shared the prize with Charles Best and sold the patent for insulin to the University of Toronto for a dollar.
The world would be a significantly different place if insulin had never been discovered. Obviously, I wouldn’t be here. But the millions of people who have been diagnosed with Diabetes certainly wouldn’t be either, as that diagnosis was basically akin to a death sentence before insulin came along. This isn’t really a “celebratory” holiday; you won’t likely catch people throwing parties or going crazy in any significant way. I mean, good on them if they do! Hopefully, they take the time to count the carbs in their drinks while they celebrate… ☯