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The Banting Behind
the Insulin Discovery

With all that’s happening these days, it’s important that we remember the good things great people from here did, to remind ourselves that our country is strong. To remember people like Frederick Banting, a great Canadian who discovered insulin, a man who did wonderful things apart from his research, but who’s not well known or understood.

Dr. Banting was born from the union of William Thompson  Banting and Margaret Grant on November 14 of the year 1891. The Bantings had five children of which Frederick was the youngest. They lived on a small farm near Alliston in Ontario. Growing up, he wasn’t the brightest in his class. In fact, he struggled to even finish high school and failed his first year of University in Arts. But despite all that, with his endless curiosity and hard work, he finally entered the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Toronto in September, 1912.

To begin with, when we think of doctors, we don’t usually perceive them as being any other thing than a man in a lab coat. But Frederick Banting wanted to join the army to help his country during World War I and after two tries, he finally got accepted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. His help didn’t stop there; he participated as a scientist for research during World War II, where he ultimately found death in 1941 when his plane crashed while he was leaving for Great Britain for a scientific mission.

But what did he do aside from this? What did he do to deserve such a place in our history? Was he some kind of genius that created a weapon of great destruction like Albert Einstein? Well, maybe he wasn’t a genius, but he is the one, along with other scientists, behind the discovery of insulin an hormone naturally produced by the pancreas. Its use in the human body is to keep the sugar level in your blood regulated. If it gets too high, the person will suffer from hyperglycemia and if it gets too low, the person will suffer from hypoglycemia. Keep in mind that if your sugar level is too high, you are not going to have hyperglycemia straight away. The insulin will store it away for later uses when your levels are too low, like when you do physical activities. But then, if the insulin regulates everything and is naturally produced, why do some people need it? It is because they don’t have enough of it to regulate the sugar as it’s supposed to do. We call this condition diabetes.

As a matter of fact, there are multiple types of diabetes. Now we need to correct some assumptions about diabetes. It is true that the majority of people that have this disease are overweight and it is also true that it often develops because of this, but we have to keep in mind that there are two types of diabetes and only one of them is caused by excess of weight. The type 2, which is the most common, is often developed because the person is overweight, but it is not a certainty.  When we talk about diabetes of type 2, the problem the person has is that they don’t produce enough insulin on their own or they have insulin resistance, meaning that their insulin isn’t working properly. The only correlation between being overweight or obese with diabetes of type 2 is that it increases the chances of developing it. It is because the fat around our waist secretes a hormone called adipokines that may decrease glucose tolerance. Apart from that, there are other factors that might increase your chances of developing diabetes of type 2; age and origins, history of the disease in close family, medical history concerning cardiovascular problems, the development of diabetes during pregnancy for women, having a higher level of sugar in the blood and, strangely enough, mental health problem. But, overall, this type is preventable.

Unfortunately, the other one, the less common, is not. It is called diabetes of type 1 and is caused by the body destroying its own insulin producing cells in the pancreas, therefore making it incapable of producing the insulin needed to regulate the person’s sugar level. It usually develops during childhood and can be deadly. For that one, fat has no influence as the majority have a healthy weight. The problem with this type is that it can cause great complications like heart disease, gum disease, blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage and bad blood circulation in the lower limbs. Fortunately, those can be prevented by checking blood pressure and cholesterol to keep them under 130/85 mmHg and 200 mg respectively, seeing a dentist and optometrist once or twice a year and checking the feet.

It stands to reason that we should ask ourselves why Dr.Banting would do researches on a disease he didn’t have. Why would he be interested in something that, at first glance, didn’t concern him? Because we all know that we usually don’t do anything that doesn’t interest nor has some impact on us.  One of the great influences in this regard would be his childhood friend, Jane, who died of diabetes.  Another factor would be when he was asked to give a lecture about the pancreas and metabolism while he knew nothing of the subject. He drew inspiration from multiple articles; the main one being Moses Baron’s that gave him an idea on how to prevent the destruction of the insulin by trypsin in the pancreas. This led him to discuss with J.J.R. Macleod who gave him the facilities to do his research. Together with Macleod, they received the Nobel Prize of Physiology or Medicine in 1923. Little known fact, even if Macleod was the one who provided him with the means to research insulin, he strongly disagreed on that decision and made it well known to the public.

In conclusion, although Frederick Banting was responsible for one of the greatest discovery in the medical field, we can now understand that he wasn’t a genius nor was he a saint. It shows us that everyone can do great things if they have enough determination and their will is strong enough.

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