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The Discovery of the Life Saving Drug - Insulin

The Discovery of the Life Saving Drug - Insulin

People who don’t have diabetes produce insulin naturally.  When we eat, glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream. This raises our blood glucose levels which stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin allowing the glucose to move inside our cells and be used.  

For many diabetics, particularly those with type 1 diabetes, insulin is not produced naturally by the pancreas so they need Insulin from another source.  Insulin is a lifeline for many diabetics. It helps to control blood glucose levels by stimulating the liver, cells and muscle to take glucose from the blood. Without it, the consequences can be devastating for type 1 diabetics and other insulin dependant diabetics.

Thankfully, we do have this lifesaving drug.  So how and when was it discovered?  Insulin was discovered 100 years ago in 1921 by a surgeon named Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best. They found a way to extract insulin from a dog’s pancreas. Using this newly discovered potion, they were able to keep another dog, which was diabetic, alive until they had no more of this product. Following this, they went on to develop insulin from the pancreases of cattle.

In 1922, in a hospital in Toronto, a 14 year old boy named Leonard Thompson was critically ill due to diabetes. Leonard was the first person to be injected with insulin and within 24 hours, his dangerously high blood glucose levels dropped to normal levels.  Insulin had saved his life!

Such a breakthrough didn’t remain a secret for long!  The news quickly spread worldwide and before long, a medical firm named Eli Lilly began to produce insulin from cattle and pigs on a grand scale. The insulin went on to save millions of lives.

In 1978, the first synthetic insulin was produced using E. Coli bacteria, then in 1982, biosynthetic human insulin became available and was sold by Eli Lilly.  It’s brand name was Humulin.

Today, we have many forms of insulin available to us, from rapid insulin to long lasting insulin, from insulin pumps to insulin pens. People now have a choice in the ways in which they use their insulin, adapting it to suit themselves as individuals with advice and guidance from their health care professionals.

We owe so much to those early scientists and researchers who discovered this life saving drug and the research goes on. Hopefully, we are on the brink of a cure for this chronic disease but for now, insulin is a life saver!

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