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A brief history of Insulin

Have you ever wondered how we come to inject ourselves with insulin, this liquid that keeps us alive! I was looking into this and found the following information – taken from article by Ginger Vieira:

“The dudes we can thank for our handy bottles of insulin are Fredrick G. Banting, Charles H. Best, J.J.R. Macleod and James B. Collip. They discovered insulin 1921 by extracting it from the islet cells of animal pancreases! Before this, being told you had Type 1 diabetes basically meant you had a very short time to live because they didn’t have any of the right tools to treat it. The four men above didn’t even accept any money for their research and discovery because they simply cared about helping people conquer diabetes!

The first insulin injection given to humans was from a cow in January 1922. The insulin was so impure with other hormones and particles from the cow that it left a huge callus on the human’s butt where the insulin was injected. So, the next task was to figure out to purify the insulin, making it more effective and safer.

Elizabeth Hughes is one of the first people with diabetes to be treated with insulin, and at first, she suffered from a lot of pain and swelling at the injection sites, and had a lot of really severe low blood sugars because they hadn’t determined proper dosages yet.
One of the first long-acting insulins was called PZI (Protamine Zinc insulin) in 1936, but we don’t use it anymore because several more effective long-acting insulins have been discovered since then, such as NPH (neutral protamine Hagedorn) in 1950, which peaks every few hours. When I used to take NPH insulin, I remember I had to eat every three hours when it peaked. Now I take Lantus Insulin, which doesn’t peak and is much more steady throughout a 24 hour period.

Today, though, there is no difference in the purity between animal insulins and ‘human’ insulins–which most of us take now, and is “chemically synthesized in labs,” not taken from humans, because they’ve learned how to purify the animal insulins completely and safely.This synthetic insulin was created in a lab in 1975, and the first thing they found was how incredibly effective it was compared to the animal insulin they’d been using previously. The test-patients were having hypoglycemic episodes really quickly after injections.

Over the next decade, every lab and science-tech-based company was working on trying to make this synthesized insulin in a method that would make it easy to produce large quantities to give to patients. Eli Lilly (I’m sure you’ve seen it on your bottles), was the first to mass produce both a fast-acting insulin (Humulin R) and a long-acting (NPH) in 1982.

That was only three years before I was born and about fifteen years before I was diagnosed wtih diabetes…so I’m feeling pretty lucky to have diabetes now instead of thirty or forty years ago! Since 1982, there are several different types of insulins for us to choose from depending on how our bodies react to one or the other, or how one fits better into our lifestyle.

Either way, those four guys mentioned at the very top of this story are pretty cool for getting it all going!”