History of Diabetes

Read about the history of diabetes and the establishment of the Canadian Diabetes Association.

1552 BCE

Egyptian physician Hesy-Ra of the 3rd Dynasty makes the first known mention of diabetes – found on the Ebers Papyrus – and lists remedies to combat the ‘passing of too much urine.'

250 BCE

Diabetes described by Arateus as ‘the melting down of flesh and limbs into urine.'

c 120 CE

Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappodocia gives the first complete medical description of diabetes, which he likens to ‘the melting down of flesh and limbs into urine.


Diabetes first appears in the English language as the Middle English word ‘diabete’.

16th Century

Swiss physician Phillipus Aureolus Paracelsus – considered the ‘Martin Luther of Medicine’ – identifies diabetes as a serious general disorder.


In his treatise Pharmaceutice rationalis, Professor Thomas Willis of Oxford University describes the ‘wonderfully sweet’ flavour of urine in diabetes mellitus.


English physician Matthew Dobson of Liverpool evaporates two quarts of urine from a patient with diabetes. The resulting residue is granulated and smells and tastes like sugar, conclusively establishing the presence of ‘saccharine materials’ as a diagnosis of diabetes.


Scottish physician John Rollo creates the first medical therapy to treat diabetes. He prescribes an ‘animal diet’ for his patients of ‘plain blood puddings’ and ‘fat and rancid meat’ so to manage the disease with foods their bodies could assimilate.


German medical student Paul Langerhans discovers the islet cells of the pancreas but is unable to explain their function. The find is dubbed the ‘islets of Langerhans.


French physician Apollinaire Bouchardat notices the disappearance of glycosuria in his diabetes patients during food rationing of food under the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War, and formulates individualized diets to treat the condition.


Scientists Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering of the University of Strasbourg, France demonstrate how removing a dog’s pancreas produces diabetes.

November 14, 1891

Frederick Banting is born on his parents’ farm near Alliston, Ontario, north of Toronto.

February 27, 1899

Charles Best born in West Pembroke, Maine.


American pathologist Eugene Opie of John Hopkins University in Baltimore establishes a connection between the failure of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas and the occurrence of diabetes.


Prof. John J.R. Macleod writes a monograph on diabetes entitled ‘Diabetes: Its Pathological Physiology.'

December 1916

Boston pathologist Elliott Joslin compiles 1,000 of his own cases and creates the textbook The Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus. In it he reports that ‘the mortality of patients was approximately 20 per cent lower than for the previous year’, due to ‘the introduction of fasting and the emphasis on regular exercise.’ This book and Joslin’s subsequent research over the next five decades establishes his reputation as one of the world’s leading expert in diabetes.


Dr. Frederick Allen of the Rockefeller Institute in New York publishes his Total Dietary Regulations in the Treatment of Diabetes that introduces a therapy of strict dieting – dubbed the ‘starvation treatment’ –- as a way to manage diabetes.

July 1, 1920

Banting opens his first medical practice in London, Ontario.

October 31, 1920

Banting conceives of the idea of insulin after reading an article in the journal Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics by Moses Barron, an American pathologist, titled ‘The Relation of Islets of Langerhans to Diabetes with Special Reference to Cases of Pancreatic Lithiasis.’ He moves to Toronto and over the next year, with the support of Prof.. Macleod of the University of Toronto, and the assistance of Best, a medical student, and Dr. James Collip, continues his research using a variety of different extracts on depancreatized dogs.

Summer 1921

Banting’s work leads to the discovery of insulin. On July 30, Dog 410 is the first to receive the extract. On August 4 the extract is called ‘Isletin’ for the first time.

November 14, 1921

Dr. Banting and Charles Best deliver a preliminary report of their research to the Journal Club of the University of Toronto, Department of Physiology.

November 17, 1921

Banting and Best discover that extract from cattle foetal pancreas lowers blood sugar levels of depancreatized dogs, leading them toward plentiful, cheap sources for insulin. Experiments begin to test the long-term effectiveness of insulin treatment.

December 1921

Dr. James Bertram Collip, a biochemist on sabbatical from the University of Alberta, joins the Banting and Best team to assist in refining the quality of extracts.

December 30, 1921

Banting, Macleod, Best and Collip present the results of their research at a session of the American Physiological Society at Yale University. The paper initially generates little interest. The paper – ‘The Internal Secretion of the Pancreas’ – is published two months later in the prestigious Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine.

January 1922

Leonard Thompson, 14, a ‘charity patient’ at the Toronto General Hospital, becomes the first person to receive and injection of insulin to treat diabetes. Thompson lives another 13 years before dying of pneumonia at age 27.

May 3, 1922

The word ‘insulin’ is used in public for the first time when Macleod presents the paper ‘The Effect Produced on Diabetes by the Extracts of Pancreas’ to the Association of American Physicians annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The results of the Toronto group’s experiments is hailed as ‘one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine’.

May 30, 1922

Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly & Co. of Indianapolis and the University of Toronto enter a deal for the mass production of insulin.

August 16, 1922

Elizabeth Evans Hughes, 13, daughter of U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, arrives in Toronto to be treated by Banting for her diabetes. Weighing only 45 pounds and barely able to walk, Elizabeth responds immediately to the insulin treatment, and goes on to live a productive life. She dies in 1981 at age 73.

October 25, 1923

Banting and Macleod are awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Banting shares his award with Best, while Macleod shares his with Collip.

October 1923

Insulin is made commercially available in the United States and Canada.


In a series of research papers, Sir Harold Himsworth of the University College Hospital in London finds that diabetes falls into two types based on ‘insulin insensitivity.’ This discovery later leads to the diabetes classifications of type 1 and type 2.


Hans Christian Hagedorn, founder of Novo Nordisk, discovers that adding protamine to insulin prolongs the duration of action of the medication.

February 21, 1941

At the height of the Second World War, Major Banting is killed in an airplane crash over Newfoundland while on a secret mission to England.


The standard insulin syringe is introduced so to make diabetes management more uniform.


Best co-founds the Diabetic Association of Ontario.


Canadian Diabetes Association is established and Camp Banting, Canada’s first camp for children with diabetes, opens near Ottawa.


Researchers identify type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) and type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent).


First pancreas transplant performed at the University of Minnesota Hospital.

September 14, 1971

Anton Hubert Clemens receives the first patent for a portable blood glucose meter called the Ames Reflectance Meter. Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, an insulin dependent physician with diabetes, uses the meter to monitor his blood glucose at home, and subsequently publishes a report on his experiences.


A group of interested physicians form the Clinical and Scientific Section (C&SS) of the Canadian Diabetes Association.


The Canadian Diabetes Association establishes the Diabetes Educators Section (DES) to represent nurses, dietitians, physicians, social workers and other healthcare professionals.


David Goeddel from pharmaceutical firm Genentech indicated that the first rDNA human insulin was created. Later that year, Genentech and pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly signed an agreement to commercialize biosynthetic human insulin.


The first biosynthetic human insulin – Humulin – that is identical in chemical structure to human insulin and can be mass produced was approved to market in several countries.

July 7, 1989

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother kindles the Flame of Hope at Banting House National Historic Site – ‘The Birthplace of Insulin’ – in London, Ontario. As a symbol of hope, the flame will burn until a cure for diabetes is found.

November 5, 1991

As part of the 100th anniversary of Dr. Banting’s birth, a time capsule created by the International Diabetes Federation Youth Representatives is entombed by Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn at Banting House in London, Ontario. The capsule will be opened when a cure for diabetes is found.


The Canadian Diabetes Association’s Clinical Practice Guidelines published in the Canadian Medical Journal.


After 10 years of clinical study, the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) report is published and clearly demonstrates that intensive therapy delays the onset and progression of long-term complications in individuals with type 1 diabetes.


Canadian Diabetes Association launches its website which quickly becomes a source of diabetes-related information for people all over the world.


75th Anniversary of the discovery of insulin is celebrated around the world.


The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) scientifically inks the control of glucose levels and blood pressure control to the delay and possible prevention of type 2 diabetes.


The Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Diabetes in Canada is released by the Canadian Diabetes Association, and become a model for other nations health programs.

March 1999

Scientists conduct the first successful islet transplant at the University of Alberta Hospital. The surgical procedure becomes known as The Edmonton Protocol.

July 7, 1999

Banting House is officially declared a National Historic Site. In a designation ceremony at Dr. Banting’s historic home, Governor General Romeo LeBlanc unveils the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque.

December 15, 2003

Canadian Diabetes Association posts the 2003 Clinical Practice Guidelines on its website as the first searchable, download-capable medical guidelines available online.

December 20, 2006

The United Nations recognizes diabetes as a global threat and designates World Diabetes Day, November 14 – in honour of Frederick Banting’s birthday – as a UN Day to be observed every year starting in 2007.


Sir Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best are crowned Maclean's greatest Canadian innovators for the discovery of insulin - an innovation that enables millions of people with diabetes to live healthy lives every day.

October 31, 2010

90th anniversary of Banting's original idea for insulin.

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