JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charityNews100 years since the discovery of insulin – the breakthrough that saved millions of lives

100 years since the discovery of insulin – the breakthrough that saved millions of lives

Posted on 14 November 2020

Photo of a woman with type 1 diabetes
Lis Warren, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than five decades.

The centenary of the discovery of insulin – one of the biggest breakthroughs in medical history – will be marked by UK people with diabetes today, which is World Diabetes Day.

The discovery meant people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes could live instead of die.

Millions worldwide with the condition, including 400,000 people in the UK, still rely on insulin every day to stay alive.

Insulin was discovered in 1921 thanks to Aberdeen’s John Macleod and his research collaborator Fredrick Banting, whose November 14th birthday is remembered each year as World Diabetes Day.

With 2021 and the discovery’s 100-year anniversary on the horizon, 2020’s World Diabetes Day today sees supporters of the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF affected by the condition tell their story.

One of them will be Lis Warren, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than five decades.

At the time of her diagnosis as a teenager in 1965, insulin injections had to be delivered by glass syringe and self-sharpened needles. Lis and other people with the condition had to use urine testing to keep track of their blood glucose and check ketone levels.

Today, Lis, who is a former civil servant, manages her blood glucose levels by using a continuous glucose monitor attached to her body, which she says has “changed my life completely.” She said: “There have been major improvements in treatment in recent years, thanks to research.”

In recent years, people with type 1 diabetes have also been able to programme their insulin to enter their body automatically via insulin pumps. 

Lis has herself volunteered to participate in research into new type 1 diabetes technologies. She says: “Research participation is always fascinating. It helps motivate you to adapt to the challenges of the condition.”

Researching for the next breakthrough

Despite the progress, managing life with type 1 diabetes via insulin can still be challenging. Even today, just 30 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes reach their recommended blood glucose targets, putting them at greater risk of health complications. The UK type 1 diabetes community hopes that together, the next big type 1 diabetes breakthrough can be found by supporting JDRF’s research programme.

Karen Addington, UK Chief Executive at JDRF, says: “Because of COVID-19, the type 1 community has been denied the chance to get together in person this World Diabetes Day. But we are determined to mark – and build upon – the momentum that our mission to cure type 1 diabetes has gathered in recent years.

“Earlier this year our researchers launched the world’s first downloadable artificial pancreas app, enabling people with type 1 diabetes to manage their blood glucose levels automatically via their phones.

“And, looking to the future, we are excited about the potential that our immunotherapy research has to lead us to a type 1 diabetes cure. Together, we can make the next big type 1 diabetes breakthrough – and find a cure.”

Find out more.