Sir Frederick Banting is credited with discovering insulin, but he had significant help beforehand

Sir Frederick Grant Banting, renowned Canadian legend in the medical world, was born on November 14, 1891 in Alliston, Ontario.

He studied divinity at the University of Toronto then transferred to medicine studies. Banting earned his MB degree in 1916 than joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

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Banting was wounded at the Battle of Cambrai – he received the Military Cross for heroism under fire in 1919. He died in Newfoundland on February 21, 1941 during a mission in the Second World War.  

After the First World War, Banting returned to Canada and became a medical practitioner in London, Ontario. Banting studied orthopaedic medicine from 1919-1920. He taught orthopaedics part-time at the University of Western Ontario from 1920 until 1921, when Banting became a lecturer in pharmacology at the University of Toronto.   

Banting is especially known for his studies in diabetes and insulin. Although the scientist, doctor and war hero has often been credited for his findings linked to insulin, Banting’s knowledge relied on the support and data gathered from fellow scientists and researchers, proving scientific knowledge is based on the accumulative understandings and associations with interconnected sources.

After all, Elvis didn’t develop rock and roll on his own, nor did the Wright Brothers concoct the airplane independently.

Innovations in fashion, technology, medicine and other fields are always reliant on the realizations attained from former researchers, inventors and stylists and insulin is no exception.

Banting is often credited for his medical research along with a team of scientists including Charles Best, Dr. J.J. R. Macleod and James Collip, but Israel Kleiner – an American researcher – is rarely acknowledged for his contributions.  

A release from Globe Newswire this November read: “A young Dr. Frederick Banting was meeting with the prestigious head of physiology at the University of Toronto, Dr. J.J.R. Macleod. Banting had woken up a week earlier in the middle of the night with what he believed could be a revolutionary, life-saving idea: could pancreatic secretion be isolated and purified in order to treat diabetes? Skeptical, but feeling even a failure could move the research forward, Macleod reluctantly agreed to support Banting’s research the next summer. A year later, the two men would reveal the results of months of research to the medical world. Diabetes was no longer a death sentence. Banting and Macleod, with integral support from Charles Best and James Collip, had discovered insulin.”

Previous to the work of Banting and the other researchers at the University of Toronto, Israel Kleiner studied the existence of a pancreatic hormone capable of lowering blood glucose from 1913-1914, according to Jeffery Friedman in Harper’s Magazine in Nov. 2018.  

Kleiner had even written a paper showing how the hormone he discovered could treat diabetes in animals, but “Kleiner disappeared from the world of research science altogether,” Friedman wrote.

Much of the blame for Kleiner’s withdrawal from insulin research can be attributed to the aftereffects of the World War One.

Kleiner’s diabetes studies at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research had been moving in the right direction long before Banting and his fellow Canadians came on the scene.

Before and after the war, Kleiner published research data on the pancreas hormone to treat lower blood glucose in animals.

Unfortunately, Kleiner’s employers lost interest in his work, since the Rockefeller Institute were also supporting the United States Army with medical personnel. The influenza pandemic of 1918 and the presence of other syndromes on the warfront also derailed Kleiner’s insulin project, as his employers were funding research in preventing the spread of infectious diseases amongst American soldiers.  

When Kleiner lost his position at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, he withdrew from his research into diabetes and insulin.    

Described as a modest man, Banting was awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. J.J. R Macleod. Banting chose to share his prize with Dr. Best and Dr. Collip of the University of Toronto. 

Banting said the most essential parts of his research began on Oct. 31, 1920, when he wrote the following words after a restless night at his home in London, Ontario: "Diabetus [sic]. Ligate pancreatic ducts of dog. Keep dogs alive till acini degenerate leaving islets. Try to isolate the internal secretion of these and relieve glycosurea [sic]."

The 25-word hypothesis written during an insomniac night is legendary for directing Banting towards a medical discovery, but Kleiner’s research at the Rockefeller Institute surely influenced the Canadian scientist’s work on insulin beforehand, along with the insights of other academics, ages before Oct. 31, 1920.