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[IP] An unlikely hero--short history of Banting

An Unlikely Hero
By Mary Turner

     Fred hated school.  Having grown up on a farm near  Alliston, Ontario,
Fred was a good worker but felt  uncomfortable and unaccepted in a town
school.  Although he  tried hard, he was not a good student.  In order to
graduate, he had to repeat some of his exams.  An academic  career just did
not seem to be in the cards for Fred but he  had a persistent streak.
     After graduation, he began studies to become a  minister.  When that
did not go well, he changed his goal  to medicine, working strenuously to
become an orthopedic  surgeon.  World War I arrived, and the great need for
field  medics facilitated the early graduation of many doctors,  including

     After the War, the young Canadian doctor returned home  to set up his
practice.  To his dismay, business was slow  to nonexistent.  He waited a
whole month before treating  his first patient, and his payment was the
grand sum of  four dollars!  Fred had so much time on his hands as he
waited for patients to materialize that he whiled away the  hours reading
medical journals.  He began to focus on  articles on diabetes, a disease
that had claimed the life  of a neighbor's child.      Realizing that
research might solve the problem of  this disease, Fred decided he needed a
laboratory.  He  approached Dr. J. J. R. Macleod at the University of
Toronto.  Dr. Macleod was initially uninterested - he
figured Fred knew nothing about research and refused to  waste laboratory
facilities on him.  But Fred stubbornly  persisted and eventually convinced
Dr. Macleod to support  him.  In 1920, Fred happily entered a poorly
equipped  laboratory and was given a young assistant named Charles  Best.

     In those days there was no support in the medical and  scientific
communities for an unknown surgeon's research.
Fred and his assistant were given lab animals left over  from other
scientists' studies.  But they dedicated  themselves to working long hours
without pay, and Fred even  sold his car to finance the needed experiments.
Dr.  Macleod soon grew more interested in the team's work, and
he eventually became involved in the research.
     Fred and Charles worked day and night, but early  results in producing
the hormone preparation they called  insulin were discouraging.  Many of the
animals they  treated died, but finally, one animal survived for several
weeks.  The team appeared to be finally getting somewhere  and it was time
to move on to human subjects.  Before  treating human patients, however,
Fred and Charles tested  the safety of their insulin on each other.  Their
tests  were a resounding success.
     The first patient to be treated with Fred and  Charles's insulin
formulation was a fourteen-year-old boy  named Leonard.  The year was 1921.
For two years, Leonard  had been on the "Allen diet" - a starvation diet for
diabetics that allowed only 450 calories a day.  The poor  boy weighed only
seventy-five pounds, and he was barely  alive.  But the new insulin
treatment administered by Fred  and Charles was a great success.  Leonard
gained weight,  and his health dramatically improved.  History shows that
Leonard, the very first insulin patient, actually lived to  adulthood.
     By now, interest in insulin was growing rapidly. Charles Best developed
methods for quick, large-scale  production, and by the end of 1922,
diabetics from all over  the world were coming to Toronto for treatment.  It
had  been only two short years from the first, rudimentary  experiments with
animals to the successful widespread  treatment of diabetics.

     In 1923, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded  jointly to Canadian
Doctors Frederick Banting and J. J. R.  Macleod.  In keeping with his
character, Fred gave half of  his $20,000 prize money to his assistant and
friend,  Charles Best. Fred put his share of the money right back  into
research, establishing the Banting Research Foundation  and the Banting
Institute at the University of Toronto.
     Fred could have made himself a millionaire with his discovery.
Instead, he sold his patent for the production  of insulin to the University
of Toronto - for one dollar -  so that the drug could be marketed cheaply
and thousands of  lives could be saved and improved.

     Since 1922, millions of lives worldwide have been  saved by insulin,
and because of Fred, diabetics are able  to live normal lives where before
it was impossible.
  Fred - Dr. Frederick Banting - was just an ordinary  man in many respects,
but he was a man with a vision and  the stubborn will to pursue his goal.
He had the heart of  a true Canadian hero.

I might add, that if any of you are ever near London, Ontario, a visit to the
Banting museum is quite worthwhile.  It is located in the house where he
lived early in his career, and where he dreamed about his research solutions
at night.  It was a student rental house for a number of years before being
made into a museum--I wondered what it must have been like for some of those
university students to know they slept in the same room where Banting first
thought of the idea of extracting insulin!

Barbara, Mum of Claire 8
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