Archive for the ‘DIABETES THROUGH THE AGES’ Category
The insulin breakthrough marked a turning point in the treatment of diabetes. Before insulin was isolated, the only approach that was even partially effective was a severely restricted diet. Patients following it had a miserable existence. One twelve-year-old boy grew so desperate that he ate his toothpaste and his pet canary’s birdseed. Even this near-starvation diet merely prolonged the lives of juvenile diabetics for only a few years. But with insulin, juvenile diabetics could hope to grow to adulthood, and all diabetics could eat enough food so that they no longer looked like living skeletons.
For a while after Banting’s and Best’s discovery, research on diabetes stood still. In the excitement of the insulin breakthrough, people assumed that diabetes was cured and needed no further attention. The hormone of the alpha cells, glucagon, was discovered two years after Banting and Best isolated insulin, but then it was largely ignored for five decades. Research efforts were concentrated mainly on developing purer and more effective variations of insulin.
Slowly, however, dissatisfaction grew. People with Type II diabetes may not be helped by injected insulin. Moreover, some people are not willing to submit to a routine of injecting themselves every day, or are too old, feeble, or blind to do so. It is also difficult to get the dose of insulin just right, and taking too much or too little can be dangerous. So gradually researchers began to look again for better ways of treating diabetes.
Again a key discovery was made by taking advantage of a lucky accident. In 1948 French researchers R. Jonbon and A. L. Loubatieres, of the Institute of Biology at Montpellier, were testing sulfa drugs for typhoid fever. One of the compounds they were using produced an unexpected reaction in rats: it lowered their blood sugar levels. Follow-up studies led to a family of oral hypoglycemic drugs called sulfonylureas. (Hypoglycemic drugs lower the blood sugar level.) Some had too many bad side effects, but others have found use in the treatment of Type II diabetes.
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