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Who Discovered Diabetes?


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Who discovered diabetes? Diabetes history varies and is not completely clear but it's interesting to see how far back the research goes.

The chart below covers the history of diabetes from the 1500's through the 2000's.

Who Discovered Diabetes


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History of Diabetes Mellitus


1500’s B.C.

It is noticed by healers that ants were attracted to the urine of people with specific disease symptoms. Also during this time, diabetes is mentioned in Egyptian records by 3rd Dynasty physician Hesy-Ra with the discussion of “frequent urination” as a symptom.

A.D. 200

Greek physician Arateus describes diabetes as “the melting down of flesh and limbs into urine.” Arateus first uses the word “diabetes”, which is a Greek word that means “to siphon” or “pass through”.

200 – 205

Greek physician Galen comes to the conclusion (mistakenly) that diabetes is a kidney disease.

A.D. 300

Chinese and Indian scientists and scholars discover that diabetic urine has a sweet taste.

300 – 1500

“Water tasters” are commonly used to diagnose diabetes by drinking the urine of people suspected of having the disease. Because of the sweet taste, the term mellitus is added to diabetes. Mellitus is a Latin word for “honey” or “sweetness”.


Paracelsus, a Swiss physician, identifies diabetes as a serious disease.


English physician Matthew Dobson developed a method to extract sugar from the urine and blood of diabetics.

French chemist Chevreul establishes a link between blood sugar (glucose) and diabetes.


John Rollo showed that the level of sugar in urine corresponded with the types and amount of food eaten. Breads and grains increase the sugar and meats tended to decrease it.

English physician Thomas Cawley, while performing an autopsy of a diabetic person, discovered that the pancreas was different than that of a healthy person. This created the first connection between the pancreas and diabetes.

Late 1800’s

First chemical tests for diabetes mellitus were created (do you think the water tasters were thankful?). Also, physicians began experimenting with diets to combat diabetes.

Catoni, an Italian diabetes specialist, isolates patients under lock and key to get them to follow their diets.


Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering at the University of Strasbourg, France, remove the pancreas from a dog to determine the effect of an absent pancreas on digestion.

November 14, 1891

Frederick Banting is born near Alliston, Ontario, Canada.

February 28, 1899 Charles Best is born in West Pembroke, Maine.
1900 - 1915 “Fad” diabetic diets included the "oat-cure" (in which the majority of diet was made up of oatmeal), the rice cure, "potato therapy", the milk diet and even opium.
1910 - 1920

Frederick Madison Allen and Elliot P. Joslin emerge as the two leading diabetes specialists in the United States.

1912 Frederick Banting enrolls in medicine at the University of Toronto.
1913 Studies Concerning Glycosuria and Diabetes written by Frederick Madison Allen. The book encourages scientists and doctors to develop therapies for diabetic patients.

Allen introduces his Starvation Diet for diabetes patients. Patients were starved until the sugar disappeared from their urine and then put on a diet of about 1,000 calories per day. They weren't allowed to ingest fat for fear of producing acidosis. Diabetic coma was avoided but patients largely were unfit for ordinary life activities. In the absence of anything better, however, the Starvation Diet was widely used as a treatment.

1919 Total Dietary Regulation in the Treatment of Diabetes is published by Allen, citing exhaustive case records of 76 of the 100 diabetes patients he observed. He becomes the director of Diabetes Research at the Rockefeller Institute.
1919 - 20 Physiatric Institute in New Jersey established by Allen. This is the first clinic in the United States to treat patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, and Bright's disease.
July 1, 1920

Banting opens his first office in London, Ontario. He receives his first patient on July 29 and earns a total of $4 for his first month of work.

October 31, 1920 Banting conceives of the idea of insulin after reading Moses Barron's “The Relation of the Islets of Langerhans to Diabetes with Special Reference to Cases of Pancreatic Lithiasis” in Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics. For the next year, with the assistance of Best, James Collip and John Macleod, Banting continues his research using a variety of different extracts on de-pancreatized dogs.



1921 Banting, Best and crew discover insulin and successfully treat a de-pancreatized dog.

One of Collip's insulin extracts is tested on a human being - a 14 year old boy from Toronto named Leonard Thompson. The treatment was considered a success by the end of the following February.

Eli Lilly and Company and the University of Toronto form a partnership to produce insulin in bulk.

October 25, 1923 Banting and Macleod are awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on diabetes. Banting shares his award with Best while Macleod shares his award with Collip.

American Diabetes Association is founded.

Scientists discover a connection between diabetes and kidney and eye disease.

February 21, 1941

Banting dies in a plane crash.

1944 The standard insulin syringe is developed, helping make diabetes management more uniform.
1949 Best co-founds the Diabetic Association of Ontario which later becomes the Canadian Diabetes Association.
1950s Research of DNA to make a form of human insulin begins.
August 15, 1950

President Truman signs the Omnibus Medical Research Act into law establishing the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases for the clinical investigation of rheumatic diseases, diabetes, and a number of metabolic, endocrine and gastrointestinal diseases. The Institute was renamed several times over the next few decades and today is known as the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD).

1955 Oral drugs are introduced to help lower blood glucose levels.
1960s The purity of insulin is improved. Home testing for sugar levels in urine increases level of control for diabetics.
1966 First pancreas transplant in humans performed at the University of Manitoba.

Blood glucose meters and insulin pumps are developed.

Laser therapy is used to help slow or prevent blindness in some people with diabetes.

1973 The first National Institutes of Health Diabetes - Endocrinology Research Center is established.
1974 Citing diabetes as a major national health problem, U.S. Congress passes the Diabetes Mellitus Research Education Act thereby establishing the National Diabetes Commission charged with creating a long-term plan to combat the disease.
1974 - 1976 The concept of Type 1 diabetes as an immune-mediated disease emerges.

The first study offering scientific proof on the distinction between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes is published in The Lancet.

The U.S. National Commission on Diabetes delivers its Long Range Plan to Combat Diabetes report recommending expansion and coordination of diabetes and related research programs, creation of a diabetes research and training centers program, acceleration of efforts in diabetes health care, education, and control programs, and the establishment of a National Diabetes Advisory Board.


The U.S. National Commission on Digestive Diseases is established to investigate the incidence, duration, mortality rates, and social and economic impact of digestive diseases, among other tasks.

The National Diabetes Advisory Board is established based on the recommendations of the National Commission.


Over $5 million in grants helps establish the U.S. Diabetes Research and Training Centers.

The National Diabetes Data Group is set-up to collect, analyze, and disseminate data on diabetes to scientific and public health policy and planning associations.


The NDDG recommends a new classification and diagnosis system for diabetes mellitus; Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, or IDDM as it was known, is renamed “type 1 diabetes” while non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or NIDDM, is renamed “type 2 diabetes”. The new system identifies two other categories - gestational diabetes and “other specific types" of diabetes.

1980 The NDDG's document and reclassification system is endorsed by the World Health Organization.
1983 First biosynthetic human insulin is introduced.
1986 Insulin pen delivery system is developed.

Dr. Gerald Reaven identified the collection of signs now called the metabolic syndrome.

1990 - 1997 More sophisticated insulin analogues are introduced, and multiple injections and insulin pumps offer promise of closer control.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves human insulin made from DNA.

The world celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the discovery of insulin.


The NIH and Centers for Disease Control announce the establishment of the National Diabetes Education Program NDEP to reduce the rising prevalence of diabetes, the morbidity and mortality of the disease, and its complications.

The Sansum Medical Research Foundation in Santa Barbara, California announces their dedication to find a cure for insulin dependent diabetes.

1998 The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study is published. UKPDS results clearly identify the importance of good glucose control and good blood pressure control in the delay and/or prevention of complications in type 2 diabetes.

Guidelines for the Nutritional Management of Diabetes is published.

2000’s The first Advanced Diabetes Management (BC-ADM) exam is offered. BD introduces the first blood glucose monitoring system that communicates with an insulin pump.

Sources for Who Discovered Diabetes?:

  • Canadian Diabetes Association, The History of Diabetes
  • University of Michigan Health System, History of Diabetes
  • 50 Ways to Manage Type 2 Diabetes by M. Sara Rosenthal
  • Connecting the Dots by Leonard Deddo
  • Management of Diabetes Mellitus by Richard A. Guthrie


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