The world has been witnessing hard times since the year 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The doctors have worked day and night to help people in these difficult times. 1st July of the year is celebrated as National Doctors Day in India, to mark respect for them and recognise their contribution to the society .
Speaking of contributions and inventions by various scientists and researchers in the field of medicine, I recently read about the hundredth year of use of insulin in human beings. Presently, 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, a condition where the pancreas cannot produce the hormone insulin in required quantities to lower the blood glucose levels to a normal extent. Insulin is released by the beta cells of the pancreas and when the body’s immune system starts attacking the beta cells, insulin production reduces. This is referred to as type 1 diabetes.
Although the disease is pretty manageable now, there was practically no medication for diabetes a 100 years back, so a lot of patients died early and the only remedy was to have a very strict, low carbohydrate diet. This continued till 1921, when Frederick Banting, a Canadian surgeon, and Charles Best, a medical student and Banting’s assistant in the research,from the University of Toronto, discovered the molecule insulin.
Banting had this idea that if insulin is extracted from an animal and is injected into humans, it might act in the same way as it does in a non-diabetic human. He brought this concept to J.J.R. Macleod, Professor of Physiology at the University of Toronto. The professor was initially skeptical but provided the lab space to Banting and got him Charles as his assistant.
On 30th July, 1921, insulin was extracted from a dog and injected into a diabetic dog. It was found to have reduced the blood sugar of the diabetic dog by almost 40% in one hour!! A few more rounds of such experiments were conducted and finally, on January 11, 1922, Leonard Thompson( a fourteen year old boy, who just weighed 29 kilograms because of his increasing illness) became the first diabetic person to be injected with insulin.
The extract at that time, also described as a thick brown muck, was impure and led to cause allergic reactions in the boy, even though it brought down his blood sugar level. Thus, it had to be refined and was given to him later as well. Shorty thereafter, this refined insulin was available in larger quantities for the general public. Frederick Banting was later awarded with the Nobel Prize for this achievement. He later said , “Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world.” Thus, he sold the rights of insulin to the University of Toronto for $1.
It’s been 100 years since the discovery of the insulin molecule and we have had major breakthroughs in the research since then. The invention of a portable glucose monitor in the 1970s is one of them. It has made it very convenient for the patients to keep a track of their glucose levels at any time of the day. Other than that, HbA1c, i.e. the average blood glucose level during the past 120 days, enables us to access the impact of the medication on long term health outcomes.
It is also found on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, i.e. the most important medications needed in basic health systems.
Such inventions have resulted in saving countless lives. Another such wondrous example is the invention of antibiotics, also known as wonder drugs , by Alexander Fleming in 1928. Penicillin heralded the dawn of antibiotic age. Before it’s introduction, there was no effective treatment for infections such as pneumonia, gonorrhoea or rheumatic fever. Hospitals were full of people with blood poisoning contracted from a cut or a scratch and doctors could do little for them but to wait and go.
Antibiotics are compounds produced by bacteria and fungi which are capable of killing or inhibiting, competing microbial species. They work by killing the bacteria or making it hard for it to grow and multiply. Later in 1939, the work on purification and chemistry of penicillin began in Oxford University. It is marked as one of the greatest advances in therapeutic medicine.
Doctors, as always, are working tirelessly and have come up with a vaccine for covid in a short time, giving us hope for many other wonderful advances in science and technology. We surely are hopeful that a vaccine suitable for kids comes out pretty soon for us to revert back to our normal lives..
THANK YOU DOCTORS!
see y’all soon,
stay tuned for more.