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Leonard Thompson

Diabetics mark 90th anniversary

It is 90 years today since the first human – a 14-year-old boy – was successfully treated with insulin to control diabetes.

Canadian Leonard Thompson marked a medical breakthrough to which a million diabetics in the UK owe their lives.

Before insulin was developed, a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes led to a quick death, often within weeks or days.

But a discovery by Dr Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best in Canada during the summer of 1921 marked a dramatic new approach to treating the disease.

Banting and Best were able to isolate material from pancreas extracts to prolong the lives of diabetic dogs.

And in 1922, the pair treated their first human patient, the young Leonard, who had lay dying in Toronto General Hospital.

In the UK, author and diabetic HG Wells wrote to The Times in 1934 to encourage widespread use of insulin.

He said he was forming “a Diabetic Association open ultimately to all diabetics, rich or poor, for mutual aid and assistance, and to promote the study, the diffusion of knowledge, and the proper treatment of diabetes in this country”. This was the origin of the charity Diabetes UK.

Around 300,000 people in the UK have Type 1 diabetes, which usually develops under the age of 40 and requires daily insulin injections.

Another 2.6 million are diagnosed with Type 2, which is linked to unhealthy lifestyles and obesity. It is estimated there are also 850,000 people with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.