Books for the News

The 87th Anniversary of Insulin

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On January 11, 1922, a diabetic patient at Toronto General Hospital was given the first injection of insulin. Though the first dose caused an allergic reaction, the insulin was purified and, twelve days later, Leonard Thomspon received a second injection and his symptoms began to disappear. The treatment of diabetes with insulin transformed the disease from a death sentence to a manageable condition, and today the nearly 24 million people with diabetes in the United States rely on insulin injections to treat their disease.
Michael Bliss chronicles all this and more in The Discovery of Insulin: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition. In this now-classic study, Bliss unearths a wealth of material, ranging from scientists’ unpublished memoirs to the confidential appraisals of insulin by members of the Nobel Committee. He also resolves a longstanding controversy dating to the awarding of the Nobel to F. G. Banting and J. J. R. Macleod for their work on insulin: because each insisted on sharing the credit with an additional associate, medical opinion was intensely divided over the allotment of credit for the discovery. Bliss also offers a wealth of new detail on such subjects as the treatment of diabetes before insulin and the life-and-death struggle to manufacture it. As the Washington Post took note: “Using previous unpublished, suppressed or privately circulated documents, Bliss sets forth the full story of the epochal discovery. It is a tale of frustration, tension and acute personal rivalry.”