University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

An Anniversary to Remember

Eighty years ago, insulin began commercial production

Eighty years ago, insulin, the miracle diabetes drug that came out of U of T’s medical labs, went into commercial production across North America. And one of its discoverers became the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Dr. Fred Banting (MB 1916, MD 1922) came to U of T from London, Ont., in 1921 with an idea for a new treatment for diabetes – a disease then associated with terrible suffering and a slow death. Physiology professor J.J.R. Macleod provided a lab, and along with student assistant Charles Best (BA 1921 UC, MA 1922, MB 1925, MD 1932), the group isolated a pancreatic extract that held promise for controlling blood glucose levels. With the help of biochemist J.B. Collip (BA 1912 VIC, MA 1913), Banting and Best determined that insulin could halt the ravages of diabetes.

In October 1923, Banting and Macleod won the Nobel Prize. It was a contentious decision. Banting considered Best, his collaborator, while Macleod believed Collip deserved recognition. But both proved gracious winners. Macleod shared his $15,000 with Collip, and Banting split his with Best. In a telegram to Best he wrote, “You are with me in my share always.”

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