Back in 1921 Dr. Frederick Banting and Charles Best of the University of Toronto made a discovery that would change the course of medical history. They had succeeded in obtaining a pancreatic extract that proved to have potent anti-diabetic characteristics when tested on dogs. Within a year, their team would purify the extract’s key ingredient, a hormone known as insulin. The first human diabetes trial then began, extending the life of Leonard Thomson, a 14-year-old boy who lay dying in hospital, for 13 years.
Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease associated with elevated blood sugar levels in which the body does not produce, or improperly uses insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by signaling the body’s cells to take up glucose, where it is converted into energy. Extensive research efforts have yielded dramatically improved, high-quality insulin as well as better delivery methods. These therapies, when complemented by a proper diet and adequate exercise, are helpful in controlling blood sugar levels. However, they merely combat the life-threatening nature of the disease. Diabetes patients remain insulin-dependent for life and are subject to serious complications, particularly as they age. Blindness, heart disease, stroke, neuronal damage, amputation and kidney failure are ever present threats. These complications generally result from the metabolic imbalance caused by high levels of blood glucose, which can damage both blood vessels and nerves. Abnormal retinal blood vessels, for instance, make diabetes the most prevalent cause of blindness in the Western world.
Recent data show that roughly 220 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes. In 2005, an estimated 1.1 million people died from diabetes and the World Health Organization believes that diabetes deaths will double between 2005 and 2030.