October 31st: The Beginning of an Idea

Happy Halloween! Besides being a day full of tricks and treats, it is exactly 94 years since Sir Frederick Banting came up with his hypothesis for insulin. His 25-word hypothesis would lead to the discovery of insulin and gave hope to people living with diabetes around the globe. Today it’s hard to imagine a time when insulin didn’t exist, but Banting’s work has helped to save the lives of millions of people. This is a great time to reflect on Banting’s successes, but also how his struggles and how he came up with his hypothesis in the first place.

What was Banting’s life like at this time? What was he thinking as he wrote down those words? Banting had been working at the University of Western Ontario as a demonstrator in Surgery and Anatomy to help supplement his income. Stepping into his bedroom, you can’t help but ask yourself what was on Banting’s mind in October 1920; Banting was concerned with the state of his medical practice and increasing debts and was preparing a lecture on the pancreas and its role in metabolism for a class he was teaching. He had come to London after one of his professors at the University of Toronto suggested that it was a good place to try to set up an office. However, it took 28 days before he had his first patient and things did not improve quickly. Reflecting on this time in his unpublished memoir twenty years later, Banting said,

     “London, the place of my hours of misery… had I not failed in my one year at London, I might never have started my research work… it was there that I obtained the idea that was to alter every plan I had ever made. The idea was to change my future and possibly the future of others.” 

London was not a place Banting thought of fondly, but the work he did here helped to shape his future research. Banting returned to London three years after he developed his hypothesis and gave partial credit to Western for the discovery of insulin which came out of preparing his lecture.

This is a photo of Banting's bedroom. It's amazing to think that this is where Banting came up with his hypothesis for insulin.
This is a photo of Banting’s bedroom at Banting House NHSC. It’s amazing to think that this is where Banting came up with his hypothesis for insulin. The room is a lasting legacy to his work here in London and beyond.

Even though he was struggling at the time, his hypothesis went on to create a lasting legacy. His bedroom at Banting House NHSC takes us back in time to when he lived in the house and is a powerful reminder of his work here in London. It’s also amazing to see how Banting’s work still reverberates with visitors to Banting House today. When people enter Banting’s bedroom, there is a sense of awe that only comes from being in a place where something truly special has happened. People still write letters to Dr. Banting thanking him for what he accomplished and for helping to save the lives of people with diabetes:

A letter written to Dr. Banting expressing thanks for all of the work he did to develop diabetes.
A letter written to Dr. Banting expressing thanks for all of the work he did to develop diabetes. It demonstrates the lasting impact of Banting’s work.

This is just one example of the letters that have been left as part of the “Dear Dr. Banting” activity at Banting House NHSC. It is a great reminder of why Banting House is significant and that Banting and his work will not be forgotten. It may be 94 years later, but Banting’s hypothesis and research live on not only through the insulin he helped to develop but also the memories he left behind at Banting House NHSC.

This post was written by Taryn Dewar, Graduate Research Assistant at Banting House NHSC. Taryn is a Master’s candidate in Public History at Western University.

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