Insulin celebrates its first 100 years

Insulin celebrates its first 100 years

A century of history and continuous innovation for the treatment of diabetes. If insulin has already saved millions of lives, the merit is not only of the discoverer Frederick Banting, but also of scientists and diabetic doctors who continue to play a key role in patient care

(photo: Unsplash) years brought very well, for the life-saving hormone that has changed the face of diabetes treatment and the fate of millions of men, women and children otherwise doomed to early death. A century in which technology has made important steps to arrive - starting from the very first preparations of the twenties of the last century - to the current smart insulin pens and digital devices for continuous glucose monitoring, passing through new generations of insulin that offer a greater flexibility and reduce the daily burden of care. And with the future prospect of a single weekly injection of a glucose-sensitive and at the same time cardioprotective insulin.

Since the first historic injection in 1921, the 100-year milestone is now an opportunity to make a assessment of how the treatment of diabetes and coexistence with the disease have changed over the course of a century. Celebrating not only an epochal transition in which science has made enormous strides, but also the fundamental role of the diabetologist in the treatment of the disease and in caring for people with diabetes. The Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, born just two years after its discovery as Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium, did so with the Insulin project, 100 years old. Stories of science, of men and women, which focus on how it is not only the drug itself that cures, but above all the doctors who look after their clients and who continue to bring value within the medical specialty of diabetology.

Human stories at the origins of insulin

It was November 14, 1891 when Frederick Grant Banting was born in Alliston, Canada. modern diabetology. At the age of 29, in November 1920, Banting was conducting scientific research on pancreatic extract, and asked for an audience with professor and luminary John James Rickard Macleod of the University of Toronto for help. He obtained as colleague Charles Best, and together they gave a dog, whose pancreas had been removed to make it diabetic, the pancreatic extract of a healthy dog: it was July 31, 1921, the day of the first insulin injection in history. From animals to man the step was really short: just a few months later Banting provided the preparation that on 11 January 1922 was injected to the 14-year-old diabetic Leonard Thompson, who went down in history as the first person with diabetes successfully treated thanks to insulin. .

Leonard Thompson before and after insulin treatments It would probably be excessive to acknowledge only Banting and Best all the merit of a path that in a century has led to transforming a disease with a certainly poor prognosis into a condition with which you can live with, leading a life with prospects of complete normality. In fact, millions of other people, scientists, innovators and above all doctors who have dedicated their lives to the treatment of diabetes and to take care of those who live with it every day have contributed to saving those millions of diabetics who have enormously prolonged their life prospects. disease.

"Insulin is nothing without the diabetologist"

The discoverers of insulin are not only responsible for the development of the first form of treatment, but above all for the origin and the paternity of a medical discipline and a type of specialization that is extremely precious today: diabetology. As the general manager and vice president of Novo Nordisk Italia Drago Vuina pointed out, "It is never the only drug to cure, but above all the commitment of the doctors who take care of their patients". And, in the case of diabetes, "insulin is nothing without the diabetologist".

This is why the project tells the news and history of diabetes research through the direct testimonies of Italian diabetologists. A collection of thoughts and reflections arrived from last June onwards, from which a celebratory video was born that summarizes the daily challenges in medical practice, strengths and criticalities in the relationship with patients and the perspectives offered by the new high-content treatments technology.

"The discovery of insulin is not only important for patient care, but also makes us reflect on the methodology of scientific research", said the president of the Italian Society of Endocrinology (Sie) Annamaria Colao . And Paolo Di Bartolo, president of the Association of Diabetic Doctors (AMD), added that "Every patient should be aware of how it all started, how it has evolved and what awaits us in the future. A story that is not finished, because we are ready to write new, unimaginable, chapters ".

The research in diabetology in a snapshot of 1960" The future lies in the technology of insulin production and administration that will support the work of diabetologists ”, is the comment of Enzo Provenzano, president of the Italian Society of Metabolism Diabetes Obesity (Simdo). While Franco Grimaldi, president of the Association of Endocrinologists (Ame) was keen to remember that "the best results are achieved only thanks to the teamwork that always involves a diabetologist, a nurse and a dietician. The person with diabetes must be educated, supported and motivated continuously thanks to teamwork ". And Agostino Consoli, president of the Italian Diabetes Society (Sid), recalled the words of Elliot Joslin, founder of the Joslin Clinic and the first doctor to become an expert in the use of insulin. "Insulin is a drug for the wise and not for the foolish, be they doctors or patients: it takes brains to live long with diabetes, but to use insulin correctly it takes even more brain".

Diabetes 100 Years Later

If we are fortunate to have state-of-the-art medicines and treatments today, the number of people with diabetes is continuing to grow at an alarming rate. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF-International Diabetes Federation,) in 2019 there were 463 million adults living with diabetes between 20 and 79 years of age in the world. And estimates are to reach 700 million by 2045 as early as 2045.

One fifth of people over 65 have diabetes, and half of global diabetes cases are believed to be undiagnosed. Diabetes causes 4.2 million deaths worldwide each year, and 374 million people are at an advanced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In addition, diabetes absorbs over $ 760 billion a year, or approximately 10% of global health expenditure.

To date, it is estimated that more than 1.1 million children and adolescents have type 1 diabetes. "The results of diabetes treatment in children and adolescents are in constant and rapid improvement thanks to two essential components: insulin available in increasingly effective formulations that make diabetes more and more easily manageable in a personalized way, and the diabetic pediatrician who instructs the patient and his family ", as Claudio said Maffeis, president of the Italian Society of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetology (Siedp). Nevertheless, much remains to be done, and in the near future the innovation and culture of diabetes will be decisive in reducing the individual and collective health impact of this condition.

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