Vivian A. Fonseca, MD: 100 Years of Insulin


The Tulane Chief of Endocrinology recalls Dr. Frederick Banting's historic discovery in 1921, and how it still impacts diabetes care today.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, a scientific breakthrough that altered the course of diabetes care and set in motion a century of innovations that have shaped metabolic treatment strategies.

In an interview with HCPLive during The Metabolic Institute of America’s (TMIOA) 2021 Heart in Diabetes sessions in New York, NY this weekend, Vivian A. Fonseca, MD, Chief of Endocrinology at Tulane University School of Medicine, recounted the discovery of insulin in 1921, and reflected on its legacy today:

“The discovery of insulin was a tremendous landmark in medicine. People were dying, kids were dying within 6-12 months of diagnosis—wasting away. And Dr. (Frederick) Banting was a surgeon who had read somewhere that maybe it’s a disease of the pancreas. People didn’t think about that; they thought it was disease of the kidneys because you were passing a lot of urine.

He went to the University of Toronto Department of Medicine, said, “I’d like to do these experiments.” They assigned a student to him—(Charles H.) Best. He took out the pancreas and these dogs started getting diabetes. He made an extract and injected it back in, and one late night, Best woke him up and said, “The dog that was almost dead is running around the lab now.” They were excited; they made an announcement that we have a cure.

It was a tremendously well-received discovery. They got a Nobel Prize within about a year, along with others who purified the insulin and brought it to the market. And things didn’t stop there. There were lots of new technologies developed to make longer-acting insulins, and more human insulin rather than relying on beef or porcine pancreases.”

Fonseca also discussed the evolution of insulin over the years, and its ongoing role in developing diabetes treatment strategies.

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