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Frederick Banting

co-developer of the method for mass-producing insulin

Frederick Banting

Frederick Banting was born in Alliston, Ontario, on November 14, 1891. After receiving his primary and secondary education in the public schools, he entered the University of Toronto. Although he initially intended to study for the ministry, Banting switched to medicine, and received his medical degree in 1916. After college, Banting joined the Canadian Army. As a medical officer during World War I, he earned the Canadian Military Cross for Bravery for attending to wounded soldiers even while he himself was wounded. After the war, Banting established a modest medical practice in London, Ontario. He served as Resident Surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, 1919-1920; taught medical classes at the University of Western Ontario, 1920-1921; and was a Lecturer in Pharmacology at the University of Toronto, 1921-1922.

In late 1920, Banting read a medical journal article about diabetes research, and it was this article that prompted him to begin the research which ultimately made him famous. Doctors of the day knew that diabetics suffered from an imbalance of blood sugar due to a lack of a protein hormone secreted by the Islands of Langerhans in the pancreas. What they did not know, however, was how to correct that imbalance.

Banting believed that the solution to the problem lay in isolating and then mass-producing the protein (insulin). After spending months looking for suitable lab space, he finally found John James Richard Maclead, a professor at the University of Toronto and a diabetes expert, who secured him space at the university. Maclead also "gave" Banting the services of Charles Best, a 22-year-old undergraduate student. Over the summer of 1921, Banting and Best, with guidance from Maclead and research assistance from James Bertram Collip, conducted tests on diabetic dogs, hoping to refine a workable sample of insulin for human use. On July 21, 1921, Banting and Best gave insulin to a diabetic dog, and observed that the dog lived a healthier life with regular insulin injections. The first human trial began on January 23, 1922, on 14-year-old Leonard Thompson, a severe diabetic; the boy's health began improving almost immediately.

In 1923, Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine/Physiology for their work. Banting initially refused the prize, however, because he thought that Best deserved to be honored as well. He did finally accept the prize, but split his portion of the prize money with Best; Maclead shared his portion of the prize money with Collip.

None of the four researchers sought a patent for their discovery. Instead, they sold the rights to their formulation to the University of Toronto for $1 to insure that insulin could always be affordably manufactured.

Banting was subsequently named head of the Banting-Best Department of Medical Research at the University of Toronto. He was knighted in 1934. He never made another major discovery, but did help create the world's first G-suit to help pilots cope with high-speed flight (in 1939).

Sir Frederick Banting was killed in a plane crash while on a military medical mission in Newfoundland, on February 21, 1941.

World War I
Nobel Prize in Medicine/Physiology

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This page was last updated on 07/21/2018.