Frederick Banting: Five facts you might know about the man who co-discovered insulin

The Canadian scientist, along with his colleague Dr Charles Best, spent years experimenting to extract insulin from the pancreas 

Alexandra Sims
Monday 14 November 2016 10:45 GMT
Sir Frederick Banting: Five facts you might not know about the man who co-discovered insulin

Sir Frederick Banting, the scientist who co-discovered insulin as a treatment for diabetes, is being celebrated by Google on what would have been his 125th birthday.

The Canadian scientist, along with his colleague Dr Charles Best, spent years experimenting with ways to extract insulin from the pancreas, which had previously been thought to be an impossible task.

In 1921, the pair extracted the first anti-diabetic substance and in 1922 a diabetic teenager called Leonard Thompson became the first person to receive an insulin injection as a treatment for Type 1 diabetes.

Until insulin was made clinically available, Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence, with many sufferers dying from the condition within weeks. In 1923, Sir Frederick was awarded the Noble Prize in Medicine for the discovery and was knighted by King George V in 1934.

Here are five facts you may not know about the revolutionary scientist :

1) The youngest Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine

Sir Frederick was 32-years old when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery, making him the youngest Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine to date.

He was jointly awarded the accolade with J J R Macleod, Professor of Physiology at the University of Toronto, who Sir Frederick initially approached with his theories about the pancreas and who provided experimental facilities and the assistance of one of his students - Dr Best.

Sir Fredrick is understood to have been deeply unhappy upon hearing he would share the prize with Dr Macleod, who he felt had not contributed to the discovery enough to deserve the award. He decided to split the prize money with Dr Best.

2) A war hero

Before Sir Frederick began saving lives with insulin, he served in the Canadian Army Medical Service during the First World War .

Despite being intensely wounded during an attack of enemy fire outside Haynecourt, France in September 1918, Sir Frederick continued to attendant to his battalion for nearly 17 hours straight.

He was awarded the Military Cross for his service.

3) An acclaimed artist

Before embarking on his career in medicine, Sir Frederick enrolled at the University of Toronto on a General Arts programme, but failed his first year.

Despite this setback, he went on to develop a keen interest in painting and became friends with The Group of Seven - a group of painters, including A Y Jackson and Lawren Harris, who specialised in depictions of the Canadian landscape.

He and Jackson travelled Canada together, painting the Canadian Rockies and Northern landscape.

4) Move into aviation medicine

Sir Frederick’s interest in aviation medicine resulted in him embarking on research into the psychological problems encountered by pilots working in high altitudes.

He led the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Clinical Investigation Unit and helped Wilbur Franks develop the G-suit to stop pilots blacking out in flight.

During World War Two he also helped develop treatments for mustard gas burns, even testing the gas and remedies on himself.

5) Plane crash death

Sir Frederick was travelling to England to conduct tests on Mr Frank’s flying suit when the plane he was in crashed after both its engines failed.

The navigator and co-pilot died instantly, while Sir Frederick and the pilot survived the initial impact. According to the plane’s captain, Sir Frederick died from his injuries the day after the crash on 21 February 1941.

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