It’s been a steamy summer so far, with record-high temperatures hitting cities around the world. The sweltering summer heat can send even sun worshipers running for the cool relief of an air-conditioned room. But that wasn’t always an option.
Almost ninety years ago, in 1921, Toronto experienced one of the hottest summers on record. It was in this oppressive heat that Frederick Banting and Charles Best would begin their research for a new diabetes treatment at a University of Toronto lab. The conditions were far from ideal. The operating table was made of wood, which meant it was difficult to keep sterile, the floor couldn’t be effectively scrubbed because water would leak through to the ceiling below, glassware was smeared, and linens were tattered and stained. The heat exacerbated the already difficult objectives at hand.
On July 5, 1921, while operating on the pancreas of a dog, the temperature reached 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Banting had cut the sleeves off of his lab coat and wrapped a towel around his head in an attempt to keep cool. During the operation, Best had to continually wipe the perspiration from Banting’s face and arms—but there was no stopping the beads of sweat from falling on the operating table.
The working conditions were difficult, Banting was dirt poor, and tensions would rise among the discovery team. It seems fitting that stifling heat and impossible conditions were the early setting for what was a tumultuous and transformative journey. But, despite the setbacks and challenges, that journey would succesfully produce a life-saving treatment for diabetes: insulin.
The discovery of insulin is miraculous for those with diabetes. BREAKTHROUGH: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle reveals just how this miracle occured.