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Banting and Best develop the 'miracle drug'

It's been the elusive cure, one that scientists have felt they've been on the brink of breaking for the past 80 years. But for years, diabetes has remained a treatable but not yet cured disease. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of death by disease in Canada. Banting and Best are Canada's best known connection to diabetes but the Canadian connection continues. Since the historic discovery of insulin, there have been improvements and refinements. The promise of a cure for all, however, remains as yet unfulfilled, leaving many to live highly regimented and uncertain lives.

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It begins under inauspicious circumstances -- they are second-guessed, underestimated and poorly funded. Fred Banting, a medical doctor with no research credentials, has a bold idea about how to treat diabetes. He's partnered up with Charles Best, a University of Toronto student, and they are provided with a modest lab. Working in the sweltering heat of summer in 1921, Banting and Best tie off the pancreases of dogs and extract insulin. For years to come, they are celebrated as brilliant heroes.
Diabetes is a chronic disease. The three types of diabetes are:
• Type 1 or juvenile diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas produces a minimal amount or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone employed by the body to convert sugar into energy.
• Type 2 or late onset diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas doesn't generate an adequate amount of insulin or the body fails to make use of it effectively.
• Gestational diabetes is a short-term form of the condition which only strikes during pregnancy.

• The Canadian Diabetes Association cites diabetes as the leading cause of death by disease in Canada. It is estimated that over 2.2 million Canadians are afflicted with the disease. (2003)
• Without treatment, high sugar levels can damage diabetics' blood vessels, which sometimes leads to blindness, amputation, renal failure, heart attacks and strokes.
• Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, blurry vision and unexplained weight loss.

• According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, the earliest recorded documentation of diabetes was in 1552 BC on Egyptian papyrus, by a physician who took notice of the symptom of frequent urination.
• In the 1920s the only treatments for diabetes were starvation diets and strict exercise regimens, neither of which proved successful.

• Frederick Banting was born in his family's farmhouse on Nov. 14, 1891 just outside of Alliston, Ont. He was deemed an unremarkable student and earned below-average grades. Following high school, he attended divinity college in Toronto before dropping out and enrolling in medical school.

• In 1916 Banting joined the Royal Canadian Army medical corps. He was posted as a military surgeon in Granville, England before being transferred to the front lines in Cambrai, France in June 1918. There, he flourished as a surgeon and was recommended for, but did not receive, the Military Cross.

• In September 1918, Banting was hit by a piece of shrapnel in his right arm. He was again recommended for the Military Cross and this time he was awarded the honour. His citation noted that "his energy and pluck were of a very high order."
• In 1919, Banting returned to Toronto and worked at the Hospital for Sick Children. He then moved to London, Ont. and opened a fledgling practice.

• Charles Best was born on Feb. 17, 1899 in West Pembrook, Maine and grew up in New Brunswick. Best would accompany his father, a country doctor, as he made his rounds and administered ether to his patients.
• Best also served in the Canadian Army, acting as a sergeant with the Canadian tank corps. Upon his return home, he changed his major from arts to science at the University of Toronto.

• In May 1921, Professor JJR Macleod introduced his student Charles Best to Dr. Frederick Banting. Banting had a theory about isolating a part of the pancreas and extracting insulin with which he hoped to treat diabetics. The two began work on May 17, 1921, the day after Best finished his undergraduate exams.
Medium: Radio
Program: Don Harron's Morningside
Broadcast Date: Sept. 26, 1977
Guest: Charles Best
Host: Don Harron
Duration: 11:28

Last updated: July 29, 2013

Page consulted on July 9, 2014

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