“Dear Dr. Banting”: Where It All Began

This Saturday marks what is sure to be a fun Halloween, but it also heralds the 95th anniversary of Frederick Banting’s idea which led to the discovery of insulin.  Early in the morning on October 31, 1920, Banting arose from his bed after mulling over the journals he had been reading for a lecture, and wrote down a twenty-five word hypothesis.  This idea sparked him into action, and he  quickly began his research that led to the development of insulin.

Banting’s bedroom and bed are on display at Banting House NHSC, and has become a place for visitors to connect with the past and his influence in developing insulin.  It is the third room he occupied here during the ten months he lived in London (the other two being the front doctor’s office and the small apothecary). The bed is a hugely significant part of the museum, as it provides a personal connection to the moment of discovery for everyone visiting the house.  Banting’s time in London had been difficult – he struggled as a surgeon running his own private practice, and had started taking a job at the University of Western Ontario.  It was through this job that Banting started learning about the features of the pancreas and its role in metabolism, which led him to scribble down his idea here at 442 Adelaide St:

“Diabetus.  Ligate pancreatic ducts of dogs.  Keep dogs alive till acini degenerate leaving Islets.  Try to isolate internal secretion of these to relieve glycosurea.”  

While his stay in London was not the happiest time for Banting, it provided him with opportunities that led to this hypothesis, which in turn led to a major medical breakthrough.  One of the most significant things in Banting’s bedroom is not an artifact at all, but a collection of letters addressed to Dr. Banting from the many visitors that come to the museum.  These letters follow in the tradition of the letters sent to Dr. Banting after his discovery of insulin, and come from people all around the world of different ages, written in different languages, each expressing their gratitude for his discovery.  This room highlights the significance of his idea and shows the impact it has had on millions of people around the world.  It has become a place for both researchers and people whose lives have been touched by diabetes to travel to, providing a moment of personal connection to “the birth of insulin.”

Some of the letters left for Dr. Banting.

As the 95th anniversary approaches this weekend, it’s a great time to come out and visit Banting House, and to take time to read the letters in his bedroom. I also encourage everyone to read the comments on the the Dear Dr. Banting page on our website if you are not able to make it to the museum, and to write one yourself if you have something to share.

This post was written by Heather Hepburn, Graduate Research Assistant at Banting House National Historic Site of Canada,  and Public History student at the University of Western Ontario. 

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