Saving Insulin’s History

It’s a piece of Canadian history about to be lost… but also one that underscores the lives of millions of people all over the world, who wouldn’t be here today without the work of Banting and Best and their remarkable discovery …




                                                                      A little background, from Canada’s Prairie Preacher:  In 1921, Canadian researcher Dr. Fredrick Banting, and his assistant Charles Best discovered the process to extract insulin from the islets of langerhans in the human pancreas. Despite reluctance from their superiors at University of Toronto, Banting persisted until he and his research team successfully treated dogs suffering from diabetes.

Then in 1922, they successfully treated a 14-year-old boy with the insulin they had derived in their lab. In February 1922, they published a journal article outlining their research and discovery, and in 1923 Banting and MacLeod (his supervisor) were awarded the Nobel Prize — which was contested, btw, since Best received no credit, but that’s another story.

Today’s story is that the historic Banting Homestead is about to be lost to posterity.  The 100-acre property, located about an hour’s drive north of Toronto, apparently fell into disrepair after the last Banting kin died in 1999.  That was Edward Banting, nephew of Sir Frederick Banting, who bequeathed the Homestead and farm buildings to the Ontario Historical Society (OHS) with the understanding that it be taken care of for future generations to enjoy and also turned into a camp for diabetic children.  Instead, the OHS has sold the property to to the highest bidder — housing developers. Bantingfarmhouse_3

Other descendants, neighbors, and supporters are hopping mad.  “Why would a (formerly) respected, more than one hundred year old historical society do such a thing? … The OHS is simply greedy,” they write on their web site,

A group called The Legacy Foundation hopes to build a camp for diabetic children on the Banting Homestead, and is asking for your support by way of writing protest letters, etc. 

Whether or not you care to get involved in the Homestead dispute, the Story of Insulin is one of the most fascinating in medical history. Despite that progress-fueled tagline stating that “Insulin is not a cure,” let us not forget how many of us would literally not be alive today without it.   


6 Responses

  1. Scott
    Scott March 20, 2007 at 7:29 am | | Reply

    Its ironic you included Michael Bliss’ “The Discovery of Insulin” in your posting, as I noted that in a book review I posted this morning!

  2. sugar-solution
    sugar-solution March 20, 2007 at 9:25 am | | Reply

    very intersting! I didn’t realize the bithplace of insulin was an american experience.

  3. Wade
    Wade March 20, 2007 at 9:30 am | | Reply

    I think your timeline might be incorrect. It starts in 1922, then jumps back to 1921.

  4. AmyT
    AmyT March 20, 2007 at 9:40 am | | Reply

    Good catch, Wade. That came directly from the Prairie Preacher, but I fixed it now ;)

  5. Penny
    Penny March 20, 2007 at 10:43 am | | Reply

    I sent an email to the Sir Fredrick Banting Legacy Foundation.

    I think it’s only fitting for his homestead to be turned into something that will continue to help children affected by this disease.

    I feel trully indebted to the man. If not for him, my son would have died at the age of three.

  6. Sarah
    Sarah March 21, 2007 at 1:28 pm | | Reply

    Sugar Solution, the birthplace of insulin is NOT an American one…it’s a CANADIAN one. Like the article says…

    Anyway, once again “diabetics” are treated with a stigma and dismissed. Nobody cares about us, or the man who enabled all of us Type 1 diabetics to still be alive today (for better or for worse..).

    Type 2 diabetes (the kind usually related to obesity) has swept over the world like a plague, along with fast food consumption. Most 350 lb people just don’t get the same sympathy as Type 1 children, but they get the attention, since Type 2 is commonplace and preventable.

    The preventable Type 2 diabetes cases caused by poor lifestyle wipe out all sympathy and compassion for those with Type 1, who get lumped in there. People think we did this to ourselves. We get overshadowed and belittled.

    Or perhaps people are put off because we have to inject ourselves to live. Plus, we have all seen the diabetic who “didn’t take care of themself” (uh..YOU try being your pancreas successfully daily from the age of 3), lying there blind and on dialysis on a hospital bed. It turns people off. Especially when they think that insulin should prevent all problems 100% if we only bothered to simply take it. Perhaps they think death is preferable to diabetics *living* like this. Who knows? We can’t deny that insulin is NOT a cure.

    Whatever the reason, diabetics are always blamed for their problems and marginialized. In this case, flat out disrespected. Typical. If this was the house where breast cancer was cured, you can bet that no lobby group to save it would be ignored, or even needed for that matter.

    Heartbreaking that the last remaining family member’s deathwish was that the property would be restored and become a camp for kids with Type 1. I bet he is spinning in his grave…this is truly so sad.

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