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Insulin in Focus at Exhibit at New York Historical Society
by admin on: July 15th, 2011

The New York Historical Society hosted an exhibit entitled, ???Breakthrough: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of Insulin??? from October 2010 until January 31, 2011. This exhibit highlighted the fascinating story surrounding the discovery of injectable insulin in 1921. While that time in history was nearly 90 years ago, this one discovery changed the world as a panacea for many more.

The history of diabetes is vast. One of the first accounts of patients suffering from this disease dates back to the first century AD. Aretaeus the Cappadocia described the condition as a melting of the body into urine; the second century physician, Galen, agreed with this assertion. While cases of diabetes were rarer in those times, there was an explosion of cases in the 19th century. In 1917, Elliot Joslin (Harvard medical professor and diabetologist) speculated that the number of cases of patients with diabetes numbered over one million.

The year insulin was discovered, New York City led the nation in the number of diabetes-related deaths. Dr. Fredrick Banting, the man who discovered injectable insulin, was a Canadian that was using diabetic dogs as a model. He and his assistant (Charles Best) had limited success until they injected a yellow collie (No. 92). Dr. Banting???s mentor, Dr. John J.R. Macleod, who was away on vacation at the time of the discovery, took over the project upon his return. While both Drs. Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923, Dr. Banting clearly resented having to share the award and refused to attend the ceremony.

Aside from the interesting back-story, the discovery of insulin was miraculous in that the etiology of diabetes shifted from a disease of children to one that mostly affects adults today. For more information about this wonder-drug, read the review article from The Lancet (2009) entitled ???Diabetes and the Public???s Health.???

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