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Insulin: The revolutionary discovery

A sign on the University of Toronto campus, where insulin was discovered. (Photo: Aria Nouri)

The isolation of insulin from the pancreas of a dog in the 1920s marks a significant time
in the history of medicine. The revolutionary discovery of insulin is a rare example where what appeared to be an insurmountable disease, was immediately and effectively controlled.

Before insulin was discovered, those diagnosed with diabetes had an extremely poor
prognosis, ranging from a few months to a couple of years at best. Indeed, the discussion of
diabetes in medical textbooks was scarce. In a desperate attempt to manage diabetes, the
prevailing method of treatment in the pre-insulin era was that of dietary modification and
starvation. Fortunately, however, suffering was sometimes eased with opium solutions.

At the time, it was probably hard to fathom that a disease with such devastating
sequelae could simply be treated with the injection of a missing substance -- insulin; however,
when the discovery was made by a team of scientists at the University of Toronto, it appeared
as if the unthinkable happened -- treatment with insulin of those who appeared terminally ill
resulted in remarkable recovery; patients awakening from coma, almost unscathed.

To put this dramatic change of events into perspective, imagine you are suffering from
terminal cancer today, and suddenly a discovery of an anticancer agent by a group of scientists
renders you cured only a few months later. This is much like how those patients must have felt.

According to the American Diabetes Association, it is estimated that a staggering 8.3 percent
(25.8 million people) of the population in the U.S. currently has diabetes. In light of its vast
prevalence today, it is worthwhile to reflect upon how many lives the discovery of
insulin has affected.

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A sign on the University of Toronto campus, where insulin was discovered. (Photo: Aria Nouri)
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