Life without certain modern medicines is pretty much a death sentence. For those with diabetes this was definitely the truth before the discovery of the life saving drug: insulin.

The research that has gone into discovering insulin has led to many significant discoveries towards the understanding of human biology.

To learn about the history of insulin we need to travel back in time just over 100 years ago. In this article we will look at the history of insulin and how it has helped shape the lives of those with diabetes around the world.

Before insulin wad discovered, doctors would put patients on strict low-carb diets which would add only a few years of longevity to patients. Other treatments even included putting patients on low-calorie diets (as low as 450 calories) which sometimes resulted in starvation.

Paul Langerhans

Paul Langerhans

In 1869, Paul Langerhans, a medical student in Berli, discovered a unique collection of cells within the pancreas. These cells would later be referred to as Islets of Langerhans.

In 1889, two German researchers named Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering discovered that animals developed diabetes symptoms when their pancreas was removed. They were initially studying the digestive system. Flies found around dogs urine due to its sugar content. They concluded that “pancreatic substances” or insulin were produced from this gland.

In 1901, Eugene Opie discovered that the Islets of Langerhans produced insulin and the destruction of these clusters of cells would result in diabetes.

In 1910, Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Shafer found that a chemical was missing from the pancreas of those who had diabetes. He referred to this chemical as “insulin” which derives from the Latin word insula, meaning “island”.

In 1916, professor Nicolae Paulescu had his study halted in World War I after his discovery that an extract from the pancreas lowered the blood sugar in dogs with diabetes. His evidence was later published in 1921.

Banting and Best with Treated Diabetic Dog

Frederick Banting and Charles Best

In 1921, a young Canadian surgeon named Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best found out how to separate insulin from a dogs pancreas. At the time, colleagues described the insulin as a thick brown mucus but they would soon discovered it to be a life saving medication. One that would save millions in the coming years.

They used their murky concoction on a dog that was suffering from severe diabetes. The dog was able to survive an additional 70 days until they stopped giving it their insulin extract.

Bertram Collip, a biochemist later joined the research team to provide a more purified insulin that was ready for testing on humans. To gain a better understanding on dosage, Banting and Best were the first to inject themselves with the substance. They experienced signs of dizziness, weakness and signs of hypoglycemia.

Eventually researchers with the help of John Macleod and J.B. Collip extracted t