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The discovery of insulin: 100th anniversary

Gargantilla P

Department of Internal Medicine, Hospital de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain

European University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

E-mail : pgargantilla@yahoo.es

Arroyo N

Department of Internal Medicine, Hospital de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain

Pintor E

European University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

DOI: 10.15761/IOD.1000136

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For people with diabetes mellitus, the year 1921 is a meaningful one, that was the year Frederick Banting and Charles H Best discovered the insulin [1]. But were they who really discovered this hormone?

We owe our recovery of the figure of Nicolae C Paulescu (1869-1931) and his contribution to the discovery of insulin. The Romanian scientist started his research on endocrine pancreas secretion in the Hotel Dieu (Paris) in the laboratory of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Sorbonne. At the age of 31 years he returned to Bucharest to organize the Laboratory of Experimental Physiology. Most outstanding were his experiments on pancreatic diabetes. In 1916, he succeeded in developing an aqueous pancreatic extract which, when injected into a diabetic dog, proved to have a normalizing effect on blood sugar levels. He called pancrein the active pancreatic extract [2]. These experiments were completely ignored.

These early initial successes had to be interrupted because of 1st World War. During the wartime occupation of Bucharest by German troops, he was unable to publish his results or continue his experiments until well after the end of 1ST World War. He wrote, and later published in French a text of medical physiology (Traité de PhysiologieMédicale) describing in detail of effects of the administration of pancreatic extracts to pancreatectomized dogs (1921) [3].

After World War I Paulescu resumed his experiments and his positive results proved insulin`s anabolic effect on all intermediate metabolisms, including additional experiments. Paulescu reported the effects caused by complete pancreas ablation in dogs (elevated levels of glucose, urea and ketone bodies in blood and urine) and the temporary suppression of hyperglycemia which occurred after the injection of pancreatic extract into the external jugular vein, followed by hypoglycemia and the suppression of glycosuria. In seven subsequent experiments he showed the resultant decrease in blood and urine urea levels, ketonemia and ketonuria. These effects were also reproduced in non-diabetic animals [4].

Meanwhile, Frederick Banting and Charles Best were pursuing Banting`s ideas about disease in the summer of 1921 in Professor John MacLeod`s department in Toronto. They were apparently unaware of the full significance of Paulescu`s studies which had been published in French. Paulescu is not even mentioned on Banting`s paper, not even at least as a precursor. We think Paulescu was the first to discover insulin, which he called pancrein.


  • Banting FG, Best CH (1922) The internal secretion of the pancreas. J Lab Clin Med 7: 251-271.
  • Murray I (1971) Paulesco and the isolation of insulin. J Hist Med Allied Sci 26: 150-157. [Crossref]
  • Paulesco NC (1921) Recherche sur le role du pancréas dans l´ssimilation nutritive. Arch Int Physiol 17: 85-103.
  • Alberti G, Lefèbvre P (2003) Paulesco: science and political views. Lancet 362: 2120. [Crossref]
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Editorial Information


Masayoshi Yamaguchi
Emory University School of Medicine

Article Type

Letter to Editor

Publication history

Received: November 27, 2015
Accepted: December 10, 2015
Published: December 14, 2015


©2015Gargantilla P.This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Gargantilla P, Arroyo N, and Pintor E(2015) The discovery of insulin: 100th anniversary. Integr ObesityDiabetes. 2:doi: 10.15761/IOD.1000136

Corresponding author

P Gargantilla

Department of Internal Medicine, Hospital de El Escorial, Spain, Tel: +34918973000

E-mail : pgargantilla@yahoo.es

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