Insulin—One-Hundredth Anniversary

By: The Hon. Jim Munson

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Maman statue and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, my statement today celebrates a century of health. If you can believe it, 2021 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of insulin in Canada.

The well-being of children continues to be a driving force in my role as a senator, so I’d like to dedicate this statement to the 33,000 brave school-aged children in Canada who rely on the self-sustaining liquid every day. Insulin makes life possible for all these young people, so I think you’ll agree that’s a real reason to celebrate.

In fact, 75% of persons diagnosed with insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes are under the age of 18. The Canadian Paediatric Society estimates that there are an additional several thousand insulin-dependent children under the age of 5.

However, you know as well as I do that the road to discovering insulin was a long one. Frederick Banting and Charles Best began researching pancreatic extracts at the University of Toronto in May of 1921. By the end of summer later that year, their extracts were finally bringing down blood sugar levels, and at the end of the year, the extracts were ready to proceed to human trials.

The first person to receive a dose of the finalized insulin extract was also a child, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old Toronto boy. Banting and Best knew the discovery of insulin was an immense opportunity to save lives, and that it belonged to the world. Subsequently, they sold the patent for insulin in 1923 for $1.

While we know that insulin injections allow a person with Type 1 diabetes to stay alive, they do not cure the disease or prevent its long-term complications. Thankfully, strides in technology, such as a continuous glucose monitoring system, or CGM, enable patients to live longer, healthier lives. When I think of these strides, I’m reminded of a great Neil Young quote, “One new feature or fresh take can change everything.”

Canada has the researchers, the skills and the heart to be the ones that turn Type 1 into “Type None.” Every day is a step closer to a cure.

There is research coming out of the University of Alberta from a team led by Dr. James Shapiro for an injection of insulin-producing cells derived from the patient’s very own already-existing cells — no need for immunosuppressants or organ donations.

Honourable senators, in closing, this means that Canadian medicine is once again well positioned for another diabetes breakthrough. Colleagues, please join me in celebrating 100 years of insulin in the spirit of looking forward to a cure.

Thank you.

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