Dr Aidin Rawshani

History and development of insulin


Insulin is vital for people with type 1 diabetes. Thanks to every opportunity to make insulin, people with type 1 diabetes can live a long and healthy life. Many people with type 2 diabetes also become dependent on insulin after a number of years of illness. Here is a brief summary of the fascinating history of insulin.


Paul Langerhans is a medical student in Berlin. Paul detects a special type of cells in the pancreas. These cells are found in special groups that are given the name “Islands of Langerhans”.


Oscar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering remove the tummy gland from a dog and discover that the dog’s urine becomes sweeter (more sugar gets into the urine).


Eugene Opie discovers that the islets of Langerhans contain cells that make insulin. Opie also discovers that if you destroy these cells, blood sugar rises.


Nicolae Paulescu manages to produce an extract of the pancreas from dogs and transfer the extract to dogs with diabetes. He notes that blood sugar became more normal when diabetic dogs received the extract.


Fredrik Banting and Charlest Best do excellent experiments where they remove the pancreas from dogs, study its contents and transfer pancreatic contents to diabetic dogs. Banting and Best managed to produce an extract that they could inject into diabetic dogs. Their method was very effective compared to the previous attempt. Banting and Best then switch to producing extracts from the pancreas in cows and they call the extracted insulin.

Bertram Collip, a biochemist, helps Banting and Best to clean their extract and isolate the insulin. Banting and Best gradually become convinced that it is the insulin that regulates blood sugar. They inject insulin into their own blood and experience symptoms similar to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Banting, Best and Collip learn to clean and dose insulin, to the extent that they feel safe to inject it into diabetic people.


14-year-old Leonard Thompson, who has type 1 diabetes, is the first to receive insulin. Leonard survives 13 years. Before that, they died within a few months of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Banting and Best are receiving more and more requests for their miracle medicine. Around the world, doctors and patients are told that there is hope. Banting and Best are developing their technology and soon the company Eli Lilly will start producing insulin.


Banting and Macleod (who had supervised Banting’s experiment) receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine. However, Banting and Macleod believe that Best and Collip also deserved the Nobel Prize, which is why they shared their prize money with them.


Hans Christian Hagedorn, a Danish physician, discovers that the substance protamine can prolong the effect of insulin. This makes the dosage of insulin easier.


Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company, launches NPH, which is insulin with an intermediate action effect. This improves the ability to control blood sugar.


Frederick Sanger, biochemical, manages to decode the human gene (in our DNA) for insulin. Sanger received a Nobel Prize for this achievement.


After Frederick Sangers discovered, scientists learned to make protein-based on DNA. They used Sanger’s discovery to make insulin. Thus, insulin became the first protein that man learned to manufacture artificially.


The company Genentech refines the method of manufacturing artificial insulin. They use the method of recombinant DNA technology and thus large volumes of insulin can be manufactured quickly and cheaply.


Insulin made artificially begins to be called human insulin. It turns out that human insulin is better than insulin extracted from the pancreas of animals. In particular, the risk of infections and allergic reactions is lower when using human insulin. The company Eli Lilly launches Humulin, which is becoming very popular for treating diabetes.


Novo Nordisk launches the insulin pen that facilitates dosing of insulin.


Medtronic launches the insulin pump that makes it even easier to inject insulin.


Eli Lilly launches analoginsulin lispro under the trade name Humalog. Analog insulin is a modification of human insulin and the modification gives insulin other properties. For example, the rate at which insulin is absorbed, distributed and translated into the body is modified. The analogs insulins have further refined the treatment.


Approximately 500 patients have received transplantation with beta cells (which make insulin). The aim is to be able to transplant beta cells to such an extent that people with type 1 diabetes no longer need to supply insulin with syringes.


The University of Cambridge develops an artificial pancreas, which means that you have a glucose meter (which measures blood sugar continuously) and it is connected to an insulin pump that can automatically dose insulin.

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