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    History of diabetes treatment chronicled in New York Historical Society exhibition


    Insulin filling, 1923. (Photo courtesy of Eli Lilly and Company Archives)
    Recalling the desperate fight for life that once was waged by juvenile diabetes patients and commemorating the events of the 1921 discovery by Toronto physician Frederick Banting that inaugurated a new era of hope for them and their families, the New York Historical Society will present the exhibition "Breakthrough: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of Insulin" from October 5, 2010 through January 31, 2011.

    Highlighting the roles of science, government, higher education, and industry in the development and distribution of a life-saving drug, the exhibition will bring to life the personalities who discovered insulin and raced to bring it to the world, and will tell the story of one extraordinary girl — Elizabeth Evans Hughes, daughter of statesman and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes — who was among the very first patients to be saved.

    "This is a powerful story that deals with type 1 diabetes and the discovery of insulin in that very early period. You can imagine the number of desperate people all over the world who wanted [an effective treatment]," said Stephen Edidin, chief curator of the Society's Museum Division.

    Also included will be an account of the valiant but heartbreaking efforts of Dr. Frederick Allen in the years before the discovery to prolong the lives of diabetic children through the use of a starvation diet.

    Responding to the urgent need for insulin, scientists quickly ran human trials and other tests, and thanks in part to a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Eli Lilly and Company, the first such between an academic institution and a drug company, the drug was on the market within 2 years of its discovery. "That would not have happened today, if you think about how long it takes from the point a drug is discovered to when it is manufactured," Edidin said.

    Also noted is the contribution made by John D. Rockefeller and the members of the Rockefeller Institute to ensure that insulin would be available to diabetes sufferers.

    Christine Blank
    Contributing Editor Christine Blank is a freelance writer based in Florida.