100th Anniversary of Insulin Celebrated Across Canada

November 9, 2021
By Krista Lamb

In 2021, as we have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, there have been events and activities taking place across Canada and around the world.

In November, we celebrate Diabetes Awareness Month and, on the 14th, World Diabetes Day. In honour of this, we wanted to share some of the many informative and celebratory activities that BBDC members and partners have supported throughout the year.

“This discovery, which took place right here at the University of Toronto, has saved the lives of untold millions around the world,” says Dr. Gary Lewis, Director of the BBDC. “While insulin is not a cure for diabetes, it has ensured that those with the condition can lead long and healthy lives—something that was not possible before insulin. The BBDC and its members continue to work towards furthering the legacy of Banting, Best, Collip and Macleod, as we support the current and future generations of diabetes researchers in Toronto.”

In January, Dr. Lewis and BBDC member Dr. Patricia Brubaker published a paper, The discovery of insulin revisited: lessons for the modern era, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The paper was the inspiration and basis of Dr. Lewis’ virtual presentation at the University of Toronto, which is available to watch on our YouTube channel now.

Commemorative edition of The Discovery of Insulin by Michael Bliss

The University of Toronto has developed a wealth of resources and information about the discovery, which are available on their new website: insulin100.utoronto.ca. Here, readers can walk through the historic discovery and learn about the people and the places that made this innovation possible.

The University also hosted an Insulin100 Scientific Symposium in April of 2021. Organized by BBDC member Dr. Daniel Drucker, the event was watched by a global audience and included presentations from an international array of scientists—many of them from the BBDC. Registrants can still access the recorded presentations they may have missed!

In addition, The University of Toronto Press has released a commemorative edition of Michael Bliss’s book The Discovery of Insulin, which includes an updated foreword by historian Dr. Alice Li.

Also in April, the BBDC co-hosted a celebration of the discovery of insulin with Diabetes Action Canada and the University of Toronto Department of Medicine. Planned entirely by people living with or supporting those with diabetes, the event was viewed live by people around the globe. All videos from the event, including a presentation by BBDC members Dr. Bruce Perkins and Dr. Alice Cheng about the latest in diabetes treatment and care, are available to watch now.

At the April event, Canada Post unveiled their commemorative stamp highlighting the discovery, which is available now. The Royal Canadian Mint has also released a commemorative $2 coin to mark the anniversary. And, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute about the discovery of insulin, which has gone on to become its most-watched video ever. It was also recently announced that Drs. Banting, Best, Collip and Macleod will be the first ever research scientists inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Throughout the year, the Insulin to Innovation Consortium, which is comprised of BBDC partners, RCIScience, the Banting Research Foundation, the Charles H. Best Foundation and the Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation, has been highlighting their 100 Lives of Insulin project. This online resource showcases the work of 100 people from throughout history and in current times who have in some way been impacted by the discovery of insulin. The project includes profiles on BBDC members, Drs. Patricia Brubaker, Alice Cheng, Carolyn Cummins, Charles de Mestral, Daniel Drucker, Denice Feig, Amira Klip, Bruce Perkins, Ravi Retnakaran and Baiju Shah, among many others. Profiles are available to read now!

The Consortium also hosted an interactive panel discussion with four Canadian diabetes investigators in May. This panel included BBDC member Dr. Ananya Banerjee, alongside investigators from British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. It is available to watch online now.

On June 16, our partners at the Alberta Diabetes Institute hosted their 100th Anniversary of the Discovery of Insulin half-day event, which was headlined by talks presented by Drs. James Shapiro and Ray Rajotte about their work on The Edmonton Protocol and the ongoing impact of islet transplantation on diabetes therapy. The full event is available to watch online now.

In August, The Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation hosted “Walk in the Footsteps of Banting” at the Banting Homestead in Alliston, Ontario. The event, which had a limited capacity live attendance component, celebrated the discovery and unveiled a new monument to mark the anniversary.

For Diabetes Awareness Month in November, many of our colleagues and partners are also planning events.

Diabetes Canada will be marking the occasion as part of their Professional Conference and Annual General Meetings from November 23 – 26, and through a public celebration on November 14, where Dr. Alice Cheng is one of the honourees.

The Insulin to Innovation Consortium will host virtual events every week throughout November, including a panel on the next generation of diabetes research on November 28. The panel  features Dr. Calvin Ke, who completed his PhD in clinical epidemiology and global health at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto. You can learn more and register for these events now.

We look forward to continuing to highlight and celebrate this momentous occasion well into 2022, when we mark the first successful clinical use of insulin.