Banting and best?

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2012-02-01 00:00:27

Banting was an out-of-work doctor/surgeon and Best a medical

student in Toronto. The problem with isolating insulin (which

controls the blood sugar level) was that the pancreas contained

enzymes that destroyed the insulin if it was cut out. Banting had

the idea of ligaturing the pancreas in situ so that it withered

away leaving the insulin largely unaffected. He employed Best (a

doctor's son) to help with the surgery and look after the dogs on

which it was done with the permission of the University Professor

in charge of the department. I think he was called McLeod (anyway

he was a Scot). The experiments were carried out during the summer

vacation under hot inclement conditions in a garret room, but they

worked. The Nobel prize was given to Banting and McLeod (just

because he was head of department and although he was not involved

in the research in any way) but not to Best who did all the nasty

work. It was said that, as a mere student, he was too young to

receive an award. However, he did ultimately become head of

department. I was in Toronto fairly soon after his death and was

shown his office by his secretary who said that he was a really

nice man. So he did win after all.

I should mention that there had been numerous attempts to

isolate insulin by the more traditional biochemical methods of

isolation and extraction of the pancreas but all had failed. So it

was a signal achievement as well as one that was put to practical

use in saving lives in the shortest possible time. It would not

happen today!!

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