Historica Canada has released a new Heritage Minute commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of research that would lead to the discovery of insulin.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence for many. This diagnosis disproportionately affected children and young adults. Starvation diets were employed to delay the life-threatening symptoms of diabetes, but patient death was all but inevitable.
Beginning on May 17, 1921, Frederick Banting and Charles Best, under the direction of J. J. R. Macleod, isolated insulin in a lab at the University of Toronto. These pancreatic extracts were then purified and made safe for human injection by James Collip. Thirteen-year-old Leonard Thompson received the first of these injections on January 11, 1922.
The Discovery of Insulin Heritage Minute focuses on this process; taking us from Toronto General Hospital where Thompson is admitted in December of 1921, into the University of Toronto labs where the scientists’ intense research comes to a head. While teams of scientists around the world pursued similar research, the Toronto scientists raced against the clock to further purify their extract after initial tests were unsuccessful. On January 23, 1922, Leonard Thompson received a second injection and within 24 hours, his diabetic symptoms had all but vanished. This remarkable Canadian discovery would go on to save millions of lives around the world.
“Canada has been at the forefront of a number of innovations in numerous fields such as science; industry; art and sport,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, President and CEO of Historica Canada. “It is quite literally impossible to overstate the ongoing importance of the discovery of insulin, which has saved millions of people from near-certain death and allowed them instead to live fulfilling lives.”
This Heritage Minute was filmed in February 2021. It was produced by Historica Canada and Shotglass Productions and filmed in Coquitlam, BC. It was written by Nimisha Mukerji (65_Redroses) and Mark Ratzlaff (Blood Relative) who also directed. Stirling Bancroft (The Good Doctor) was director of photography. On this production, Historica Canada consulted with Dr. Christopher Rutty, author and leading historian on the discovery of insulin; Grant Maltman, lead curator of Banting House Museum; Diabetes Canada; and Alison Li, medical historian and author (J.B. Collip and the Development of Medical Research in Canada). The English end narration is provided by actor Victor Garber, and the French end narration is provided by athlete and motivational speaker Sébastien Sasseville.
The Discovery of Insulin Heritage Minutes was made possible through funding from Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly Canada, and the Department of Canadian Heritage. In-kind equipment support for the production was provided by William F. White. This project is part of other nationwide projects created as part of Insulin 100 for this anniversary year.
Historica Canada offers programs that you can use to explore, learn, and reflect on our history, and what it means to be Canadian.