Research: Inspired Ideas and Collaboration: Insulin and Heparin

Living History
Written on: 
Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The University of Toronto is responsible for the discovery and development of two fundamental products that have saved or improved the lives of people around the world.

The discovery of insulin was sparked in 1920 by Dr. Frederick Banting’s novel idea for how to isolate the internal secretion of the pancreas. University of Toronto’s Dr. John J. R. Macleod, the leading figure in the study of diabetes in Canada, enabled Banting to pursue his theory with the support of Charles H. Best, and later, biochemist Dr. John B. Collip. The unique perspectives of these individuals, the resources of the university and clinical evaluation at the Toronto General Hospital, all contributed to the historic discovery of the first effective treatment for diabetes.

Toronto was also central to the development of heparin, providing the first reliable and inexpensive means to control blood clotting, making possible a wide range of life-saving surgical interventions.

The heparin project began in 1928-29 and was spearheaded by Dr. Charles H. Best, Head of the Department of Physiology. The first phase involved the production and standardization of a purified product by Dr. Arthur F. Charles and Dr. David A. Scott of Connaught Laboratories. Eventually, Dr. Gordon Murray of Toronto General Hospital began the first human surgical trials of heparin in 1935.

The availability of heparin led to a number of major surgical advancements that were pioneered in Toronto, including the artificial kidney and the biological oxygenator. By the early 1950s, the most significant advances were led by Dr. Wilfred Bigelow – particularly the use of hypothermia to cool the body to enable open-heart surgery, and the invention of the artificial pacemaker.