Origins of Diabetes
Apollonius of Memphis is thought to have first coined the name “diabetes,” meaning to go through or siphon. This is significant because of the disease’s ability to drain a patient of more urine than the fluid they consume.
First Recordings of Diabetes
Diabetes was first recorded in English, in the form diabete, in a medical text written around 1425. In 1675, Thomas Willis added the word mellitus, from the Latin meaning “honey,” a reference to the sweet taste of diabetic urine. This sweet taste had been discovered in urine by the ancient Greeks, Persians, Chinese, Egyptians, and Indians. In 1776, Matthew Dobson confirmed that the sweet taste was because of an excess of a kind of sugar in the urine and blood of patients with diabetes.
Although diabetes has been recognized since antiquity, and treatments of various efficacy have been known in various regions since the Middle Ages, and in legend for much longer, the causes of diabetes has only been understood experimentally since about 1900.
Role of the Pancreas
The role of the pancreas in diabetes is generally attributed to Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski. In 1889, they found that dogs whose pancreases were removed, developed the signs and symptoms of diabetes and died shortly afterwards.
In 1910, Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer suggested that people with diabetes were deficient in a single chemical that was normally produced by the pancreas. He proposed the name insulin for this substance, from the Latin word insula, meaning island, in reference to the insulin-producing islets of Langerhans in the pancreas.
Discovery of Insulin
The endocrine role of the pancreas in metabolism, and indeed the existence of insulin, was not further clarified until 1921. Sir Frederick Grant Banting and Charles Herbert Best repeated the work of Von Mering and Minkowski, further demonstrated they could reverse induced diabetes in dogs by giving them an extract from the pancreatic islets of Langerhans of healthy dogs.
Insulin Becomes A Therapy
In 1922, Banting, Best, and colleagues (especially the chemist Collip) went on to purify the hormone insulin from bovine pancreases at the University of Toronto. This led to the availability of an effective diabetes treatment — insulin injections. Shortly thereafter in 1922, a 14-year old boy was the first diabetic patient to receive insulin therapy. For this, Banting and laboratory director MacLeod received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923.