Historic discovery! Insulin turns 100

A century ago the name of the teenager Leonard thompson entered the history of diabetes treatment. Seriously ill, received an injected dose of insulin in a hospital Canada, a puncture that would make the difference between life and death.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in the world 422 million people are living with diabetes, a disease that a hundred years ago meant certain death and that today can be treated thanks to insulin.

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Photo: EFE

Discovery of life or death

The discovery of a technology for purify insulin and inject it to people it was “a matter of life and death for patients”, since diabetes mellitus or type 1 begins when you are still very young and a century ago it supposed death.

This is how he points it out to Efe the researcher of Superior Council of Scientific Investigations (CSIC) German Perdomo, from the Institute of Biology and Molecular Genetics of Valladolid, addresses the history of that injection and new research in the treatment of diabetes, from the so-called artificial pancreas to stem cell trials.

The January 11, 1922, Thompson was 14 years old, had been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus two years earlier and was in the Toronto General Hospital (Canada), on the brink of death, treated with a 400 calorie diet daily and with only 23 kilos of weight.

That day he received the first injection, but “It was not very successful”, Perdomo points out. Although urine glucose levels dropped somewhat, stopped treatment due to an allergic reaction to the used dog pancreas extract, which was not yet sufficiently purified.

However, the team of researchers from the University of Toronto he did not give up. Back to the lab, on the 23rd he was subjected to a second puncture with a new extract.

There was clinical improvement, her glycemic index dropped and began to regain mobility, with which Thompson became the first patient to be successfully treated. A few weeks later another six underwent the same treatment.

From the end of the 19th century, some researchers pointed, in tests with dogs, to some substance of the pancreas as key to regulating glucose levels and in the early twentieth century, tests were carried out to treat patients with pancreatic extract from animals.

The key piece

A key figure in the discovery of insulin was the young Canadian researcher Frederick Grant Banting, who in 1921 proposed to the University of Toronto Professor of Physiology John Macleod to investigate with the help of his assistant Charles Best.

Banting would be the author of first pancreatic extract that was administered to the adolescent on January 11, 1922 and on the 23rd the test was repeated, on that occasion with another performed by the biochemist James Collip, who “put the talent to purify it,” says Perdomo.

The discovery of insulin would give Banting and Macleod the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1923, an award not without controversy due to the team’s disagreements on the attribution of merits. Other scientists, such as Romanian Nicolae Cosntantin Paulescu or german Georg Zuelzer also raised objections.

The first injection in a human was made, “Without much success”, Zueler, who worked in the United States, and was the first to file a patent on insulin.

Paulescu was “The great forgotten”adds the CSIC researcher, since he had reached the same conclusions as Banting before but the First World War forced to suspend their investigations.

What was the first insulin created?

The 20th century was marked by advances. The first pass to use cow pancreas and further refine the purification process. In 1936 protamine insulin was created, to reduce the number of punctures to one or two a day.

In 1958, Frederick sanger received the Nobel for determining the chemical sequence of insulin, and in 1977 the award went to Rosalyn Yalow, “For a spectacular breakthrough” to be able to measure insulin in the blood.

Shortly after recombinant human insulin was achieved, which prevents rejection of the body.

Rapidly absorbed insulin, “that gives more tools to manage patients”And the first generation of long-acting synthetic insulin (2000) and the second generation are other highlights, according to the researcher.

The 1981 invention of the first mini insulin pump and later the first sensors led, already in this century, to the development of what is called artificial pancreas.

Is about “A substantial advance for the patient”, according to Perdomo, as it combines a glucose sensor and a mini-pump controlled by a computer algorithm, which continuously monitors glucose levels and, when they rise, inject the necessary amount of insulin.

Current diabetes

Currently, research is placing emphasis on artificial pancreas to “improve existing technology, make algorithms more powerful and more efficient.”

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas preventing the body from making insulin, a disease that usually arises early.

Today work is being done to identify people at risk, looking for biological markers, “that tell us with high reliability” this possibility and treat them with drugs to prevent their onset.

Perdomo also points out the importance of research with mother cells to try to regenerate and provide the body with cells that destroys the disease in the pancreas and makes the patient able to produce their own insulin.

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Historic discovery! Insulin turns 100