le Vendredi 31 mars 2023
le Mardi 19 octobre 2021 12:08 Santé

In Memoriam: Diabetes And 100 Years Of Insulin

On June 3rd, 2017, our community lost a great man: he was then in his late fifties, had reached his zenith years, ‘dans la fleur de l’âge’ as the French expression says.

‘J’aime la vie et l’amour me rendra meilleur’ were the last words to remember him from, printed on the souvenir bookmark from his funeral. RÉJEAN LAFRANCE was an authentic artist, in body and in soul, from his very first childhood years on the family farm in St. Eugene; ‘le bébé de la famille’ as he was nicknamed, he grew up in a large rural family where music was a routine activity of everyday life; when his older brothers were watching hockey on TV, he was sitting at the piano, as he probably was for every day of his life afterwards. To say that he was a ‘busy’ man would be redundant: teacher, composer, performer, choir director, all the while entertaining close friendships proved to be exhausting at times and occasionally wore him out to the point where he would skip meals or would forget the importance of a healthy nutrition: it was an essential factor in his case because Réjean was…diabetic, type-1, since age sixteen. He considered himself lucky that his eyesight and his hand-finger motor coordination were not affected; but he lost kidney function, had to go for dialysis a few times a week until finally, gift from heaven and his sister Liette, he was transplanted a new kidney on the occasion of his 50th birthday! Réjean was able to extend his passionate life a few more years until passing away suddenly and leaving us to meet his Creator; and knowing the man that he was, he probably offered his talents and services as pianist and choir director for the choir of God’s angels! What a man! Cré Réjean!

Maybe because of good family genes or out of pure luck, Réjean was my first close and personal encounter with someone suffering from diabetes and the whole concept was quite vague in my mind; consequently, I did some research on the topic and the more I read, the more I became fascinated by this disease’s history and the whole process that lead to the discovery of insulin, which I now share.

Diabetes has been known since antiquity; its first noticeable symptoms were insatiable thirst and urination: within weeks, the patient would lose weight mass, and within months, enter coma and die; for centuries, no one had a clue about its causes, they could only be powerless witnesses to its irreversible consequences. Some Greek anatomists knew about the pancreas and suspected its involvement in the digestive system, but didn’t realize it was such an essential organ. Only in the 1800s’ did a German pathologist-surgeon establish that the pancreas has two functions: producing enzymes for the digestive systems and producing insulin.

This research was followed up in 1920 by Fred Banting, a small-town doctor from London, Ontario; working with a Toronto student named Charles Best, they experimented with dog pancreas and insulin injections and were successful to the point that diabetes symptoms disappeared; but the insulin needed purification to be side-effects free for humans: so they turned to a biochemist named James Collip to find a solution, which he did. Banting and associates began treating patients at the University of Toronto hospital in January 1922; within weeks, the results were miraculous. Word spread quickly and demand for insulin skyrocketed! By May 1924, diabetes was no longer a fatal disease; another one of man’s implacable enemies had been overcome. All of this was happening in an era not accustomed to medical miracles, dealing with polio, measles, rubella, an era that had just been struck by Spanish Flu; and yet, seemingly out of the blue, a clear Canadian serum was bringing people back from death. We could now redirect our efforts on cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other unsolved diseases.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin; insulin is critical to the wellbeing of millions of diabetics around the world; for centuries, the world’s diabetics had been doomed to shortened and tragic lives filled with suffering; this discovery granted them a brighter future!

Here are some statistics that will help realize the seriousness of this global pandemic (Type 2 diabetes) which spreads like wild fire from industrialized to emerging countries like Asia, Africa and Latin America:

  • According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, 80% of people with diabetes will die as a result of heart attack or stroke; diabetes is a contributing factor in the death of about 41,500 Canadians each year.
  • From 2003 to 2019, statistics estimate the % of Canadians aged 12 and over reporting being diagnosed with diabetes at around 7.8%.
  • In 2015, 3.4 million of Canadians (or 9.3% of Canada’s population) had a ‘diabetes’ status; projection was that numbers would reach 5 million by 2025
  • Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation; it is recognized as the world’s fastest growing chronic condition.
  • The average price of insulin in USA: $98.70, compared to $6.94 in Australia, $12.60 in Canada and $7.52 in Great Britain: so on average 8 times higher in USA than most comparable high-income nations.
  • Type-2 diabetes, which is caused by both genetic and environmental factors, accounts for the vast majority of cases (90-95 out of 100 people); Canadians with diabetes’ lifespan is reduced by 5 to 15 years and will pay more than 3% of their income for prescribed medications, devices and supplies.
  • Type-1 diabetes (or childhood/juvenile diabetes) is the most potent and chronic form: it afflicts 1 in 300 Canadian children.

‘HERO: a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming circumstances. INSULIN is not a cure, it’s a life support.’ -Christopher ‘Superman’ Reeves