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The discovery that changed diabetes treatment


Up until the early 20th century, being diagnosed with diabetes was essentially a death sentence. Without an effective treatment, patients died due to ketoacidosis, a complication of uncontrolled diabetes in which the body produces high levels of toxic blood acids called ketones.1

In 1916, Romanian physiologist Nicolas Paulescu discovered a pancreatic extract that normalized blood sugar levels in diabetic dogs.2 In 1921, four Canadian scientists—Frederick Banting, Charles Best, James Collip and John Macleod—successfully extracted from animal pancreases a protein hormone that lowered the level of glucose in the bloodstream. They had discovered insulin, forever changing diabetes treatment and the lives of people suffering from the disease.2

In 1922, during a visit to the United States, August Krogh, a Nobel laureate, and his wife, Marie, a medical doctor who had diabetes, learned about the discovery of insulin in Canada. The Danish couple went to Toronto to meet Macleod, head of the institute in Toronto where the first insulin extract had been produced.

August and Marie returned to Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 1922, bringing with them the permission to start insulin production in Scandinavia. In March 1923, production was up and running and the first patients were treated with insulin at a hospital in Copenhagen. This was the beginning of what is now Novo Nordisk.

Marie Krogh’s colleague and one of the Novo Nordisk pioneers, Dr. Hans Christian Hagedorn, wrote the following about a 9-year-old girl with diabetes who had received the company’s revolutionary insulin therapy: “… this child, who was previously very quiet, has become lively and alert, almost uncontrollable.”3

Ever since, Novo Nordisk has been focused on developing new and better treatments for people with diabetes. Today, Novo Nordisk is the world’s largest diabetes care company. It provides therapeutic treatments for an estimated 23 million people with diabetes worldwide, and produces approximately 50 percent of all insulin in the world.

Today, 92 years after its discovery, insulin is one of the cornerstones of diabetes management. Patients with type 1 diabetes require permanent insulin therapy.

Insulin is indicated for patients with type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes when other therapies fail to keep blood glucose levels within the target range. Together with lifestyle modification and oral anti-diabetes medications, insulin therapy maintains optimal blood glucose control and prevents the life-threatening complications of diabetes. Insulin continues to save lives.

Patients with diabetes and their loved ones, doctors and other healthcare professionals working in diabetes care all owe a debt of gratitude to the scientists who discovered and developed insulin.

Diabetes trivia

CONTEST: What is the organ that produces the hormone insulin? E-mail your answer to changingdiabetesph@gmail.com and get the chance to win a prize!

Dr. Litonjua is the founder of numerous medical organizations, including the Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity and the Philippine Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism, among others. He is the recipient of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists’ “Most Outstanding Endocrinologist Serving an Underserved Population” and the  American College of Endocrinology’s “International Clinician Award.”

Dr. Litonjua was head of the Section of Endocrinology, UP College of Medicine, and is now professor emeritus, UP College of Medicine.

The “Changing Diabetes” column commemorates the 92nd anniversary of insulin’s discovery. It aims to increase awareness on diabetes prevention, diagnosis and management. Novo Nordisk supports “Changing Diabetes.” Headquartered in Denmark, Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with 90 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care. For questions or comments, e-mail changingdiabetesph@gmail.com or follow us at facebook.changingdiabetesph and twitter.changingdiabetesph.


1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetic-ketoacidosis/DS00674

2. http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2011/07/discovered-insulin/

3. http://www.novonordisk.com/images/about_us/history/HistoryBook_UK.pdf

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Tags: Augusto D. Litonjua , Changing Diabetes , diabetes treatment , Health , MD

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