We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of insulin!

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin – a significant milestone that has transformed the treatment of diabetes forever and changed the lives of millions.

The breakthrough discovery, made by Drs. Frederick Banting and Charles Best in 1921, altered diabetes from a death sentence into a manageable condition, and the advancements over the last century have been incredible.

Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy. The beta cells of the pancreas make insulin, but when the body cannot make enough, as is the case for those with type 1 diabetes (T1D), insulin can be taken by injection or other means. Insulin is vital to the treatment of diabetes, and when used appropriately, it can help keep the body’s blood glucose level within a healthy range.

The different types of insulin can be narrowed down to three groups: Fast acting, intermediate acting, and long-acting. Fast-acting insulin is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream from subcutaneous tissue, and is used to both control one’s blood sugar when eating and correct high blood sugars. Intermediate is absorbed more slowly than fast-acting, and subsequently remains in the bloodstream longer. It can be used to control blood sugar over longer periods, such as at night while a person is sleeping, or if someone is fasting between meals. Lastly, long-acting insulin is absorbed very slowly, has a minimal peak effect, and a stable plateau effect that allows it to last most of the day. This type of insulin has the same general uses as intermediate.

As technology has continued to evolve, devices such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) have been developed to help improve health outcomes for those living with T1D by providing ways to more accurately measure one’s insulin level and administer insulin as needed throughout the day. However, managing T1D is complex, and education on the use of these devices is critical. In-person education is the traditional format used to train patients on how to use devices, but it is not always accessible, and does not always foster an active learning environment.

A recent study led by Eileen Faulds, PhD, examined an educational simulation platform, entitled A1Control, which was developed in conjunction with local members of the College Diabetes Network. This platform allows patients on insulin pumps to tackle common treatment dilemmas via interactions with a simulated virtual patient environment using a patient avatar. Initial testing demonstrated high usability and acceptability, and provided critical insights for further customization and use.

Thus, while our understanding about how to effectively and safely use insulin therapy continues to evolve, the discovery of insulin remains as one of the most significant achievements in medicine. Our faculty and staff are proud to recognize this achievement and be a part of the advancing research and treatments utilizing insulin, as well as other management approaches that lead to improvements in the prognosis of people with diabetes.

The DMRC is dedicated and passionate about bettering the lives of patients through research and is committed to finding even more solutions for the millions of people affected by diabetes.

1“Glossary.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 Mar. 2019, www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/glossary.html

2“Types of Insulin.” Diabetes Education Online, Diabetes Teaching Center at the University of California, San Francisco, https://dtc.ucsf.edu/types-of-diabetes/type2/treatment-of-type-2-diabetes/medications-and-therapies/type-2-insulin-rx/types-of-insulin