Charles H. Best was born in 1899 in Washington County, Maine and moved to Toronto in 1915 to study at the University of Toronto. As a fourth year student in the Honours Physiology and Biochemistry course, Best was introduced to Frederick Grant Banting by his professor and mentor, John J.R. Macleod, along with fellow student, Clark Noble. The two were recommended as assistants to Banting to conduct research on the pancreas and its connection to diabetes. Best and Noble tossed a coin to decide who would obtain the coveted research position, resulting in Best being the auspicious victor.
The research that Banting and Best did in their small, decrepit laboratory in the physiology department led to one of the most groundbreaking discoveries in medical history for the University of Toronto. The duo found that isolating this pancreatic hormone, insulin, and purifying it became a highly effective treatment for type 1 diabetes. In 1923, these efforts were recognized and awarded with a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Frederic G. Banting and John J.R. Macleod. While Banting and Macleod were the official recipients of the award, Banting shared his prize money with Best and the two went down in history as the co-discoverers of insulin.
Following the discovery of insulin, Charles Best headed the Physiology Department beginning in 1927 and, at age thirty-one, became one of the youngest departmental chairs in the history of the faculty. During his years as head of the department, Best co-authored a textbook in 1937 with Norman B. Taylor entitled, The Physiological Basis of Medical Practice, which is said to have put the medical school in Toronto on the international map with respect to the teaching of physiology. Upon Banting’s death in 1941, Best became the head of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research (BBDMR) in addition to his departmental chair responsibilities. He relinquished his positions in 1965 due to a depressive illness and in 1978, Best became critically ill after hearing of the death of his older son, Sandy, and died shortly thereafter.