Biographical entry Banting, Sir Frederick Grant (1891 - 1941)
KBE 1934; MC 1918; MRCS 11 July 1918; Hon FRCS 13 November 1930; DSc Toronto 1923; Yale 1924; McGill 1936; LLD Queen's 1923, Western Ontario 1924; FRS 1935; Hon FRCP 1930.
- 4 November 1891
Alliston, Ontario, Canada
- February 1941
Frederick Grant Banting, the discoverer of insulin, was born at Alliston, Ontario on 4 November 1891, fifth child and fourth son of William Thompson Banting, farmer, of Irish extraction, and Margaret Grant, his wife, of Scotch extraction. He was educated at Alliston High School and Toronto University, where he graduated MB in 1916. On the outbreak of war he had enlisted as a private, but was sent back to college. He joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps as soon as he had qualified and served in Canada, France, and England, being promoted captain on 9 December 1917. He saw a good deal of fighting, was wounded in the arm at Cambrai, and won the Military Cross in 1918. He was later invalided to England with blood-poisoning and while here took the MRCS in 1918. He went back to Canada in 1919 as resident surgeon at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. Next year he moved to London, Ontario, where he practised privately and was a part-time assistant in physiology at Western Ontario University. In 1921 he went back to Toronto as lecturer in pharmacology at the university, becoming senior demonstrator in the department of medicine in 1922, and professor of medical research in 1923, a chair which he held till his death. His own account of his early practice and research may be read in his Cameron lecture in the Edinburgh Medical Journal, 1929.
On 16 May 1921 he began his research on the internal secretion of the pancreas, in collaboration with Professor J J R Macleod and Dr C H Best, and in less than a year announced (1) the discovery of the insulin treatment for diabetes. In 1889 Minkowski and Mering (2) had shown that the pancreas must have an internal secretion dealing with blood-sugar besides the external secretion dealing with food-stuffs in the gut. This internal secretion eluded them and also Schaefer (3), who called it "insulin", from its localization in the islands of Langerhans, as Laguesse had pointed out in 1893 (4). Opie (5) showed in 1901 that in diabetes the island tissue was usually weak or degenerate. In 1908 Zuelzer (6) and Scott (7) in 1912, extracted small quantities of active substance from the dead pancreas, which proved too toxic for medicinal use. In Macleod's department Banting elaborated a new technique for estimating minute changes in the blood-sugar, and with the help of Best's skill he was able to block the external secretion in dogs and recover from the still intact islands an extract which cured experimentally diabetic dogs. Banting and Best verified that the insulin was still present in the dead pancreas and could be extracted with alcohol before its destruction by ferments. This extract J B Collip purified from its toxic constituents, and thus made it available for the treatment of diabetes. The new treatment proved one of the most valuable discoveries, prolonging many lives and preventing much disability.
Banting was rewarded by many honours. He was awarded the Starr gold medal for the doctorate and the George Armstrong Peters prize by Toronto University in 1922 and the Reeves prize and Charles Mickle fellowship in 1923; the Nobel prize for medicine with J J R Macleod in 1923; the Johns Scott medal, Philadelphia in 1923; the FRS of Canada in 1925; the Cameron prize at Edinburgh in 1927; the Flavelle medal of the Royal Society of Canada in 1931; the Apothecaries medal of London in 1934; the F N G Starr gold medal of the Canadian Medical Association in 1936; and the Rosenberger gold medal at Chicago in 1924. He was elected Hon FRCS in 1930, FRS in 1935, and Hon FRCP in 1936. He received the DSc from Toronto in 1923, Yale in 1924, and McGill in 1936, and the LLD from Queen's in 1923 and Western Ontario in 1924. He was knighted KBE in June 1934. Banting went to Stockholm in 1925 to receive his half of the Nobel prize and gave the Nobel lecture; as he felt that Best had been unjustly overlooked by the prize committee he shared his half-prize with him. He also set up a medical research institute at Toronto, afterwards called the Banting Institute, and patients benefited by insulin subscribed nearly £4,500 towards its funds. He became too an active vice-president of the Diabetic Association started in England for the mutual help of diabetics.
Another enthusiasm of Banting's was medical care for the Eskimo, and he went to the Arctic in 1927 with a project of starting hospitals there, but the nomadic life of the Eskimo made the scheme impracticable. Banting inspired a real school of young research workers at his institute, and with them carried out much important work. After the completion of his insulin studies he turned his attention to the suprarenal glands, and also made important contributions to the elucidation of the aetiology of cancer, and published a valuable study of silicosis. He was active in helping refugee scientists, and early realized the need for planning medical research to anticipate the demands of the second world war. In this connexion, and in his work after the war had broken out, he showed an unexpected organizing ability.
At the beginning of the war Banting came to England as a major in the Canadian AMC and meant to begin research at the Canadian Military Hospital. But in 1940 he went back to Canada to serve on the technical and scientific development committee set up in Ottawa, and began to work on the physiological problems of high flying and the elimination of airman's black-out. He worked at his own institute and at various air stations. In 1941 he started to fly to England on a mission connected with this work, but the aeroplane crashed at Musgrave Harbour in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, on Friday 21 February. The navigator and another passenger were killed outright, but Banting did all he could for Mackey the pilot, before he himself died in the snow. Mackey, who had head injuries, was alone rescued alive. Banting's body was flown to Toronto where it lay in state in the university convocation-hall before the half-military funeral on 4 March. The service was read by the president of the university and the imperial, dominion, provincial, and city authorities were all represented. A memorial service was held in London on 5 March at St Martin's in the Fields and attended by the presidents of the Royal Colleges.
Banting had married first in 1924 Marian, daughter of Dr William Robertson of Elvia, Ontario, and they had one son, William Robertson Banting, born 1929; but the marriage was dissolved in 1932. He married secondly in 1939 Beatrice Henrietta Ball, who survived him. He was a talented painter whose pictures of arctic landscape were particularly admired, and a keen amateur singer with a fine baritone voice. He was of large build, and of simplicity and charm of character, but a difficult colleague. A good portrait appeared in the American Journal of Digestive Diseases, 1934, 1, facing page 220.
On 20 December 1943 a "liberty ship" named the Sir Frederick Banting was launched by Lady Banting, in the presence of the Canadian ambassador to the United States and representatives of Toronto University and other institutions connected with Banting's work, at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard, Baltimore, Maryland. Lady Banting gave a portrait of Banting to hang in the cabin, and the ship was presented by the United States maritime commission to the British government (Canad med Ass J. 1944, 50, 181; J Amer med Ass. 1943, 123, 1121).
Insulin references in text:-
(1) Banting, Best and others, Canadian medical Association Journal, March 1922, 12, 141.
(2) J v Mering und O Minkowski, Diabetes mellitus nach Pankreasexstirpation. Arch exper Path. 1889-90, 26, 371.
(3) Sir E Sharpey Schafer, The endocrine organs. London, 1916. In the second edition (1926), p 343, Schafer says: "The term, insulin, was introduced by de Meyer Archivio di Fisiologia, 1, 1909. In ignorance of this it was employed as a convenient term to denote the autocoid of the islet tissue in the first edition of this work, published in 1916. It was independently adopted by Toronto workers in 1922." Banting stated, Edinburgh Medical Journal, 1929, that in the laboratory he and his fellow-workers had used the term "isletin", but that Macleod insisted on the term insulin for publication, unaware of its previous use.
(4) Laguesse, Sur la formation des îlots de Langerhans. Comptes rendus, Société de biologie, 1893, 9th ser 5, 819.
(5) Opie, On the relation of chronic interstitial pancreatitis to the islands of Langerhans and to diabetes mellitus. J exp Med. Baltimore, 1901, 5, 397.
(6) Zuelzer and others, Neuere Untersuchungen über den experimentellen Diabetes. Deut med Woch. 1908, 34, 1380.
(7) Scott, On the influence of intravenous injection of an extract of pancreas on experimental pancreatic diabetes. Amer J Physiol. 1911-12, 29, 306.
See also Fielding H Garrison, Historical aspects of diabetes and insulin. Bull New York Acad Med. 1925, 1, 127.
Bibliography of Banting's principal writings:-
The internal secretion of the pancreas, with C H Best. J lab clin Med. February 1922, 7, 251.
Pancreatic extracts in the treatment of diabetes mellitus, with Best and others. Canad med Ass J. March 1922, 12, 141; Trans Ass Amer Phys. 1922, 37, 337; Bull Battle Creek San and Hosp Clin. 1922-23, 18, 155.
Pancreatic extracts, with Best. J lab clin Med. May 1922, 7, 464.
The effects of pancreatic extract (insulin) on normal rabbits, with Best and others. Amer J Physiol. September 1922, 62, 162.
The effect of insulin on experimental hyperglycaemia in rabbits, with Best and others. Ibid. November 1922, 62, 559.
Insulin in the treatment of diabetes mellitus, with W R Campbell and A A Fletcher. J metab Res. 1922, 2, 547.
The antidiabetic functions of the pancreas and the successful isolation of the anti- diabetic hormone, insulin, with J J R Macleod. St Louis, 1923. 69 pp.
Insulin. J Mich med Soc. 1923, 22, 113.
The value of insulin in the treatment of diabetes. Proc Inst Med Chic. 1922-23, 4, 144.
Discussion on diabetes and insulin, with P J Cammidge and others. Brit med J. 1923, 2, 445.
Insulin in treatment of severe diabetes, with A McPhedran. NY med J. 1923, 118, 215; Trans Ass Amer Phys. 1923, 38, 370 (discussion, p 405).
Observations with insulin on department of soldiers civil re-establishment diabetics, with J A Gilchrist and Best. Canad med Ass J. 1923, 13, 565.
Insulin, with D A Scott. Proc Trans Roy Soc Can. 1923, 3rd ser 17, sect 5, p 81. The use of insulin in the treatment of diabetes mellitus (Nathan Lewis Hatfield lecture No 5). Trans Coll Phys Phila. 1923, 45, 153.
Factors influencing the production of insulin, with S Gairns. Amer J Physiol. 1924, 68, 24.
Medical research and the discovery of insulin. Hygeia, Chicago, 1924, 2, 288. Insulin. Internat Clin. 1924, 34th ser 4, 109.
Pharmacologic action of insulin. J Amer med Ass. 1924. 83, 1078.
Insulin. Proc Intern Conf Hlth problems trop Amer. Boston, 1925, 1, 728.
Diabetes and insulin (Nobel lecture, 15 September 1925). Stockholm, 1925; also in Sven läk-sälls Handl. 1925, 51, 189, and Canad med Ass J. 1926, 16, 221. History of insulin (Cameron prize essay). Edin med J. 1929, 36, 1.
Early work on insulin. Science, 1937, 85, 594.
Inst quart Springfield, 1924, 15, 11; Ann clin Med. 1924-25, 3, 565; Canad med Ass J. 1926, 16, 877; N.Y. state J. Med. 1932, 32, 311.
Antitryptic properties of blood serum, with S Gairns. Amer J Physiol. 1930, 94, 241.
Site of formation of phosphatase of serum, with A R Armstrong. Canad med Ass J. 1935, 33, 243.
Resistance to Rous sarcoma, with S Gairns. Canad med Ass J. 1934, 30, 615. Study of serum of chickens resistant to Rous sarcoma, with Gairns. Amer J Cancer, 1934, 22, 611.
Resistance to experimental cancer (Walter Ernest Dixon memorial lecture). Proc Roy Soc Med. 1939, 32, 245.
Silicosis. J Indiana med Ass. 1935, 28, 9.
Cellular reaction to silica, with J T Fallon. Canad med Ass J. 1935, 33, 404. Tissue reaction to sericite, with Fallon. Ibid. p. 407.
Silicosis research. Canad med Ass J. 1936, 35, 289.
Experimental production of coronary thrombosis and myocardial failure, with G E Hall and G H Ettinger. Canad med Ass J. 1936, 34, 9.
Effect of repeated and prolonged stimulation of vagus nerve in dog, with G E Hall and G H Ettinger. Ibid. 1936, 35, 27.
Experimental production of myocardial and coronary artery lesions, with Hall. Trans Ass Amer Phys. 1937, 52, 204.
Vagus stimulation and production of myocardial damage, with G W Manning and Hall. Canad med Ass J. 1937, 37, 314.
Observations of cerebellar stimulations, with F R Miller. Brain, 1922, 45, 104. Suprarenal insufficiency, with S Gairns. Amer J Physiol. 1926, 77, 100.
Study of enzymes of stools in intestinal intoxication, with Gairns, J M Lang, and J R Ross. Canad med Ass J. 1931, 25, 393.
I P Pavlov. Amer J Psychiat. 1936, 92, 1481.
Physiological studies in experimental drowning; preliminary report by Banting and others. Canad med Ass J. 1938, 39, 226.
Sources used to compile this entry: [Lloyd Stevenson, Sir Frederick Banting. London: Heinemann, 1947, 446 pp with portraits, etc; The Times, 25 February 1941, p 4f, 26 February, pp 4g and 7e, with portrait, 27 February, pp 3b and 7e, 6 March, pp 3d and 7c; Brit med J. 1941, 1, 383, with portrait; Lancet, 1941, 1, 287 and 551; J Amer med Ass. 1941, 116, 1020, with portrait; Canad med Ass J. 1941, 44, 327, by C H Best, with portrait, also November 1942, memorial number; Nature, 1941, 147, 535, by C H Best; Bull NY Acad Med. 1941, 17, 400, with portrait, and p 483; Royal Society, Obituary notices of fellows, 1942, 4, 21, by C H Best, with portrait and bibliography; A Y Jackson, Banting as an artist, with a memoir by F W W Hipwell, Toronto: Tyerson Press, 1943, with portrait, list of paintings, and 15 reproductions; information from the secretary of the Banting Institute].
The Royal College of Surgeons of England
Created: 10 April 2013