Insulin pioneer Frederick Banting celebrated with Doodle

14 Nov 2016

Frederick Banting appears on a stamp in Russia. Image: Vitaly Raduntsev/Shutterstock

Google’s latest Doodle celebrates the 125th birthday of Nobel Prize winner Frederick Banting, the first man to test insulin on human patients.

Frederick Banting received a Nobel Prize 93 years ago “for the discovery of insulin”. By 1923, Banting, alongside John Macleod (also a winner), Bertram Collip and Charles Best had changed the future of diabetes patients for the better.

Born on 14 November 1891 in Canada, Banting went to the University of Toronto, where received a degree in medicine in 1916. He served the Canadian Army Medical Corps, fighting in France during the First World War.

Frederick Banting

In 1918, he was badly injured at the battle of Cambrai and was later awarded the Military Cross for heroism under fire. After the war, he returned to Canada where he studied orthopaedic medicine.

Back at the University of Toronto, Banting discovered insulin after running a series of tests on dogs and their pancreases. Banting and Best were the first humans ever to be injected with the new treatment.

However, the first test on a diabetic human came in 1922 in Toronoto. Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy close to death, was chosen as the first true test case – providing the team with a breakthrough success. Thompson rapidly regained his strength and appetite.

The news of the successful treatment of diabetes with insulin rapidly spread outside of Toronto, and the following year, the Nobel Committee awarded Banting and Macleod the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Frederick Banting

According to the Nobel Prize’s own notes on that award, the decision made Banting furious.

“He felt that the prize should have been shared between him and Best, and not between him and Macleod,” it said. “To give credit to Best, Banting decided to share his cash award with him. Macleod, in turn, shared his cash award with Collip.”

Given the potential for immense profit, many would expect the foursome to become multi-millionaires on the back of the insulin. Banting, Macleod, and the rest of the team patented their insulin extract but gave away all their rights to the University of Toronto, which would later use the income from insulin to fund new research.

Soon after the discovery of insulin, the medical firm Eli Lilly started large-scale production of the extract. As soon as 1923, the firm was producing enough insulin to supply the entire North American continent.

Frederick Banting appears on a stamp in Russia. Image: Vitaly Raduntsev/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic