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Dr. Frederick Banting, Nobel Prize laureate

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.

Egos clash in the lab as Professor John James Macleod and James Collip move in to refine Banting and Best's crude findings. The four scientists grow increasingly distrustful of each other, fearful that one will run away with the discovery and patent it on his own. When the Nobel Prize is awarded to Banting and Macleod, they are brought together in an uneasy and contemptuous union. In this CBC Radio interview, historian Michael Bliss describes the explosive fights and struggles in the lab.
• John James Macleod was born in Cluny, Scotland on Sept. 6, 1876. Dr. Macleod taught at the Western Reserve University in Cleveland and became one of the foremost experts in carbohydrate metabolism and physiology. He was hired at the University of Toronto in 1918. Macleod teamed Banting up with his student Charles Best and provided the duo with lab space and guidance. He died in Aberdeen, Scotland on March 16, 1935.

• James Bertram Collip was born in Belleville, Ont. on Nov. 20, 1892. Collip graduated with a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Toronto. He joined the Banting, Best and Macleod team while on sabbatical from the University of Alberta. Collip is credited with refining Banting and Best's crude product and extracting non-toxic insulin fit for human use. Following his stint at the University of Toronto, he taught at McGill and the University of Western Ontario. He died on June 19, 1965.

• Paranoia and insecurity ran rampant in the lab. Banting and Best's inexperience versus Collip and Macleod's considerable range of technique and skill constantly positioned the scientists in opposite corners. Banting often feuded with Macleod and Collip over funding, protocol and recognition. On Jan. 25, 1922, after much fighting, the four scientists signed a treatise of sorts, agreeing to work together and not attempt to patent the discovery of insulin independently.

• The Nobel Prize committee noted that "Dr. Banting, who undoubtedly was the first to have the idea and who has carried out the investigations, should be the one who in the first place is awarded the prize." But, it further stated that "it is very likely, that the discovery would never have been made if Macleod had not guided him, at least not as early as it turned out."

• The Nobel Prize was established in 1901 to recognize international achievement in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.
• Banting and Macleod were awarded $114,935 from the Nobel Committee. In the same year, Robert A. Millikan was awarded the prize for physics and Fritz Pregl was recognized in the chemistry field. Poet William Butler Yeats was the recipient in the literature category. There was no recipient for the peace award and the economics prize hadn't yet been created.

• Frederick Banting shared half of his Nobel award with Charles Best and used the other half to establish the Banting Medical Research Foundation. JJR Macleod split his award with James Collip. 
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Nov. 15, 1981
Guest(s): William Banting, Charles Best, Michael Bliss
Reporter: Rae Corelli
Duration: 8:09

Last updated: March 5, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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