Frederick Grant Banting Biography (1891-1941)

physician, medical researcher

Frederick Banting's principal achievement was the first isolation of the hormone insulin in 1921 and its successful use in treating diabetes. For this, Banting received the 1923 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine along with John J. R. Macleod (1876-1935).

Frederick Banting was born in Alliston, Ontario. An average student, he graduated in 1916 from the University of Toronto medical school. After Medical Corps service in World War I, he completed his internship at Toronto's Hospitalfor Sick Children before beginning a medical practice in London, Ontario. Through an article on diabetes in a medical journal, Banting became interested in the disease, which he began to study at the University of Western Ontario.

By the early 1900s, scientists knew that the pancreas, an organ connected tothe small intestine, was involved in diabetes. A pancreas hormone that reduced the blood glucose level was proposed in 1916 by the English physiologist Edward Sharpey-Schäfer. He thought the hormone was produced by cells called islets of Langerhans and called it insuline, from the Latin word for island. Various scientists tried unsuccessfully to isolate it.

In 1919, Moses Barron, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, showed that blockage of the duct connecting the two major parts of the pancreas causedshriveling of a second cell type, the acinar. It was Barron's article that inspired Banting, who thought that enzymes from the acinar cells digested theislet hormone. By tying off the pancreatic duct to destroy the acinar cells,he believed he could preserve the hormone and extract it from the islet cells.

At the suggestion of a colleague, Banting proposed his experiment to the headof the University of Toronto's Physiology Department, John Macleod, a notedexpert on carbohydrate metabolism. At first Macleod rejected Banting's proposal, in part because he did not believe the islet hormone existed. Finally, however, Macleod supplied Banting with laboratory space, ten dogs for experimentation, and a medical student who was skilled in glucose measurement named Charles Best (1899-1978). Banting and Best began work in May 1921 while Macleodwent on vacation to his native Scotland.

Banting and Best tied off the pancreatic ducts in some dogs so that the acinar cells would atrophy, then removed the pancreases to extract fluid from theislet cells. In the meantime, they removed the pancreases from other dogs tocause diabetes. These dogs were then injected with the islet cell fluid. After many attempts, the procedure was perfected. This required careful measurement of the glucose levels in the diabetic dogs before treatment to be sure they were diabetic and afterward to show that they maintained normal blood glucose levels.

When he returned from vacation in August 1921, Macleod learned of Banting andBest's success. He organized his entire laboratory to isolate and purify insulin from livestock for use in treating human diabetes. Banting and Best initially wanted to name their fluid "isletin," but Macleod insisted on Sharpey-Schäfey's term insuline, shortened to insulin. A major collaborator in the purification work was biochemist James Collip.

At the Hospital for Sick Children in January 1922, fourteen year-old LeonardThompson became the first human to be successfully treated for diabetes usinginsulin.

Banting's original theory was incorrect, as Banting and Best later discovered. The digestive enzymes in the acinar cells are inactive and insulin can be extracted from an intact pancreas. What led to their success was their precisemethod of glucose measurement.

Charles Best received his medical degree in 1925. Banting always insisted that both he and Best be credited for the discovery, and almost turned down hisNobel Prize because Best was not included. Best became head of the Universityof Toronto's physiology department in 1929 and director of the university'sBanting and Best Department of Medical Research after Banting's death.

Frederick Banting also conducted research in cancer and heart disease. He again joined the Medical Corps during World War II, and died in a military air crash in Newfoundland in 1941.

Recent Updates

February 11, 2004: It was announced that Banting will be inducted intothe National Inventors Hall of Fame on May 1, 2004. Banting, Charles Best, and James Collip determined that insulin injections would help keep diabeticsalive and the three men developed techniques for extracting, isolating, and injecting insulin. Source: National Inventors Hall of Fame,, April 8, 2004.

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