A Medical Triumph
The discovery of insulin was one of the great triumphs of modern medicine, often compared to the discovery of penicillin. It is also one of medicine’s great feel-good stories.
In patients with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot make insulin, a hormone vital to maintaining blood sugar to feed the cells of the body. Without insulin to keep blood sugar levels steady, patients can have nerve damage, blindness, heart problems, and they can die. Of the estimated 30 million Americans with diabetes, 7.4 million require insulin.
In 1921, Canadian scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best created animal insulin, selling their patent to the University of Toronto for $1 each, in hopes of ensuring life-saving treatment for all who needed it.
Irl Hirsch, MD, is a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and one of nation’s foremost diabetes experts. He has type 1 diabetes and remembers paying 75 cents a vial in the 1960s.