Author


The 2021-22 period marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto. In October 2021, the University of Toronto Press released a revised centenary edition of historian Michael Bliss’ book on the subject, The Discovery of Insulin, first published in 1982.[1] The centenary coincides with the Covid-19 crisis, during which there has been a related discussion of how the privatization of Connaught Laboratories in Toronto led to the disappearance of inexpensive insulin from the global market and to Canada being unable to produce vaccines.

This brief review and discussion of The Discovery of Insulin may, at first glance, have little apparent relevance to the study of propaganda in the contemporary age in which medical science has been subsumed within the biosecurity-military-industrial complex.[2] This chapter of history perhaps shows only how one of the greatest medical discoveries occurred outside of the system that was taking shape at the time — the system that has now become one of massive regulatory institutions, charitable foundations, and of science merged with the prerogatives of global capitalism.

The Rockefeller Foundation was established in 1913, coincidentally the year when the Federal Reserve Act was passed and the United States lost its sovereignty to international banking concerns.[3] Thereafter, the Rockefeller Foundation began wielding its massive influence over medical education and public health regulation. Other foundations followed the example set by Rockefeller, such as Carnegie, Ford, Hewlett, Kellogg, and Charles Stewart Mott. In recent decades, others have joined the list: Soros, Clinton and, most notoriously, Bill Gates who, like Rockefeller, as Kees van der Pijl describes it, used his foundation in a way that “converted his wealth into social and political power beyond the reach of the taxman.”[4]

In the article “Foundation Networks and American Hegemony,” Inderjeet Parmar summed up their role in the contemporary world:

… increasingly internationally and globally oriented groups, rooted in an American liberal vision of a seamless domestic and global order, actively [construct] US hegemony, blurring the so-called state-private divide… Network power coheres the American hegemonic project and has also permitted/furnished the institutional agility required to navigate crises. The state-private network operations… have proved adaptable, successful organizations essential to the development and exercise of American hegemony.[5]

In the years just before the discovery of insulin, the Rockefeller Foundation had been a significant funder of the “American Plan”, a program set up to arrest women if they were walking in the wrong part of town and suspected of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases. They were held in “detention houses for women” if tests (later determined to be flawed) confirmed the suspicions of arresting officers. In addition to the flawed tests, flawed and toxic treatments were also forced upon the women. Syphilis and gonorrhea had been endemic for centuries, but now when a national security threat was perceived (American entry into WWI), no one — across the political spectrum — complained about this massive violation of civil liberties.[6]

The American Plan was supposed to preserve the fighting capacity of the military. The number of soldiers in the military had increased from 286,000 to six million after the US entered the war in April 1917, and their perceived vulnerability to promiscuous women was suddenly seen as an urgent threat to be met with handy remedies. Sexually transmitted diseases, it later turned out, ended up being much less deadly than other infections, battle fatigue (shell shock), chemical weapons, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and the “Spanish flu”, and whether the plan ever achieved its stated goals didn’t seem to matter. It was, in the end, a harassment technique similar to “stop and frisk” techniques used in recent times in “the war on drugs.”

At the time, viruses had not been discovered, and antibiotic treatments were not available to treat pneumonia. The famous pandemic of 1918-19 was a blanket term for a variety of causes that led to diminished immunity in millions of people — factors such as bacterial infections, viral infections, malnutrition, war trauma (in soldiers and civilians), alcoholism, and quite likely, the Rockefeller-funded experimental meningitis vaccine given to troops in early 1918.[7]

Another factor in the historical context was the beginning of alcohol prohibition that lasted from 1920 to 1933 in the United States. WWI also led to the rise of the national security state, with The Espionage Act passed by US Congress in 1917.

I mention all of the above to provide the general historical context of the discovery of insulin. The over-arching theme of the time was the rise of policies of coercive control to mobilize for war, to control sexual behavior, and to combat disease, alcohol abuse, and political dissent. The impetus for these policies came from networks of religious organizations, philanthropic foundations, and corporations. What is remarkable about the discovery of insulin is that this momentous discovery occurred at the margins, without any help from the major foundations. Koch, Pasteur, Rockefeller, Ford … they were all institutions obsessed with germs and programs of control; thus, they all missed the opportunity to carry out the simple and inexpensive experiments on dog pancreases that were done in Toronto by a young surgeon, Frederick Banting, who had no experience in medical research.

The story of insulin shows that this key discovery occurred when there were fewer structural incentives in the pharmaceutical industry to pursue monopolies and maximum short-term profits. The discovery was made long before the “greed is good” ethos of the 1980s had emerged, before there was much of a regulatory system to be captured. The people who led the nascent pharmaceutical giants, in this case Eli-Lilly, were aware that they had to be seen as good corporate citizens, and not be seen as monopolistic monsters — exploiters of the people (rich and poor alike) who suffered from a fatal condition. Whether it was from their own intrinsic morals or the extrinsic pressure of society, they honored their agreements with the discoverers and asked for only a fair return on their investment in the manufacturing process. Honoring the wishes of the discoverers, the executives of Eli-Lilly facilitated the free licensing of their manufacturing process to pharmaceutical companies throughout the world.

The established researchers of the time, with their superior proficiency in surgery and biochemistry, probably could have discovered insulin more quickly and efficiently than the actual discoverers (i.e. with fewer sacrificed dogs), if only they had been asking the right questions and pursing the matter with the dogged determination of Dr. Banting — a decommissioned Army surgeon at the time who was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The discovery of insulin also reminds us of the way medical science has often advanced by “stabs in the dark,” through hubris, recklessness, and trial and error. With a century of perspective, we can see easily that Rockefeller’s vaccine specialists had little understanding of the immune system when they developed a “horse serum” to immunize millions of soldiers against meningitis. Cow pox inoculation was known to be effective, so the serum proponents of the late 19th and early 20th century just applied the same principle to other diseases without a thorough understanding of the mechanisms involved, often with catastrophic results for which they were never held accountable. Farmers often complained about disastrous vaccinations done on their livestock.[8] Then, during World War I, Rockefeller conducted a large-scale experiment on humans with the same disregard for safety.

Similarly, the discoverers of insulin really didn’t know much about what they were dealing with. They knew they were extracting something from the pancreas that worked, but they didn’t know what it was. There were no mass spectrometry machines that could tell them what molecule they had found, nor did they understand much about how it functioned to regulate blood sugar. They ligated dog pancreases to make dogs diabetic and used their pancreatic extract to distill a serum that could be injected into these dogs to artificially control their blood sugar. Many dogs were sacrificed in the endeavor, but Dr. Banting found a steady supply from the puppy vendors who worked street corners in those days (see The Great Gatsby, set in 1922, for a fictional appearance of a puppy vendor). Preparing the extract was also a trial-and-error exercise. They had to adjust numerous variables in the process, remove allergens, and determine the non-fatal dose. After the first successful administration to a human patient, the biochemist on the team quietly panicked because he had forgotten to write down all the variables that led to the successful extract.

There is no doubt that the medical scientists of a century ago considered the bloodletting of medieval barber-surgeons to be barbaric and unscientific, but we can look back on the early 20th century in the same way. The lesson to draw from the past is that what is being done now in the global mRNA experiment may also be seen in the future as both equally pathetic and barbaric. Messenger RNA therapy for a quickly evolving RNA virus, rushed out to a billion people after a three-month trial designed and controlled by those who stood to profit from it? What were they thinking? Mainstream forms of propaganda simply won’t entertain these sorts of questions. With these considerations in mind, however, the history that follows is worth reviewing.

The Story of the Discovery

Many unsung heroes were involved in the discovery of insulin and in the work that led to mass production of it afterwards, but essentially four people went down in history as the principal actors: Frederick Banting, a practicing physician in London, Ontario who persuaded University of Toronto professor JJR Macleod to provide research space, experimental dogs and a graduate student assistant, Charles Best. The fourth was JB Collip, a visiting professor of biochemistry who joined these three when his expertise was needed.

There is a mythical story about Banting’s team moving through a ward of dying diabetic children, injecting them one by one with insulin and resurrecting all of them simultaneously with the newly discovered life-saving elixir. Michael Bliss discounts this story as a mythical exaggeration.[9] It didn’t happen that way, and it couldn’t have happened that way because the discoverers were keenly aware of the shortage of supply and problems that still had to be worked out in the purification process. The first patients to receive their product had allergic reactions, so that was another reason to proceed carefully one patient at a time. They were in the horrible position of having a very effective treatment (not a cure) but not having enough of it for every person in the world who needed it. Diabetics could read about the discovery in the newspapers, but they couldn’t obtain insulin. For this reason, the research team was eager to not get too much publicity nor to have a large group of patients who couldn’t get continuous treatment.

During 1922, insulin was given to only a few patients, two of whom were children of wealthy or politically connected Americans who wrote insistent letters to the team in Toronto. One was the son of the vice-president of Eastman Kodak. The other was the daughter of the then US Secretary of State and future Supreme Court Chief Justice, Charles Evans Hughes.[10] In the research I did for this article I found no critical comments about this preferential treatment or questions about why these patients were chosen for treatment.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of this story is the fact that Banting, Best and Collip filed the patent for the discovery and then sold it to the University of Toronto for one dollar each. They had to register a patent to ensure the quality of insulin that drug companies would make, and they had to ensure that no drug company would beat them to the patent and gain a monopoly. After securing the patent, they said insulin belonged to the world and they did not want to profit from it. A legend passed down in my family told us that one day in 1922, Dr. Banting walked into my great-grandfather’s Toronto law firm and asked for help in registering this patent from which he didn’t want to profit. My great-grandfather was impressed by Banting’s sense of altruism and agreed to do the work pro-bono. For that deed, my great grandfather lives for posterity on pages 174-176 of The Discovery of Insulin. Connaught Laboratories, affiliated with the University of Toronto, led mass production for Canada, and the pharmaceutical company Eli-Lilly of Chicago was given a one-year exclusive license to develop a way to mass produce safe and pure insulin and recover their development costs. After that, other makers had the right to produce insulin.

The corporate ethics of Eli-Lilly in the 1920s tell us much about the decline of such a thing as corporate ethics in recent decades. An editorial in the Toronto Star described the privatization of Connaught Laboratories and the greed and profiteering that occurred as pharmaceutical companies — including Eli-Lilly — patented synthetic insulin and eliminated inexpensive animal-derived insulin from the market:

But starting in the 1980s, multinational drug companies Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and later Sanofi got around patent restrictions by producing a genetically engineered form of insulin. The new insulin turned out to be much more expensive and posed serious risks — including even death — for some users … Even so, the three companies soon phased out the old, animal-based insulin they’d long been producing under Connaught guidelines. They also drove small producers of the old insulin out of business and took over 95 per cent of the world market with the new insulin. Connaught would have protected Canadians from these disastrous changes — except that [in the 1980s] the Mulroney government privatized Connaught, ending its central role in the Canadian and global insulin market. Today, the high cost of insulin means that roughly half the people in the world who need it can’t get it — a much lower rate of accessibility than when Connaught was keeping world prices down.[11]

The 1923 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to only two people, as per Nobel rules. It went to Banting and Macleod, leaving Best and Collip out. Within days, Banting announced he would share his prize money with Best, and Macleod announced he would share his with Collip. The Nobel committee found that Banting took the initiative and led the research, while Macleod, as the only faculty member on the team, was instrumental in publishing the research and harnessing the university’s resources toward the effort. In an article that summarizes his book, Michael Bliss wrote in 1984:

The discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto in 1921-22 was a sensational event in the history of medicine because this hormone immediately proved to be a dramatically effective therapy for diabetes. In fact it was one of the first “miracle” treatments discovered by modern medical research. The discovery itself was also a highly controversial event, one which was obscured for many decades in a fog of myth and speculation about what really happened during the Toronto research, about the relationship of Toronto’s work to that of other researchers, and about the various causal elements making possible such a momentous discovery in a university and a country which as yet had little distinction in the world of medical research.[12]

Bliss here refers to the fact that researchers in other countries had made important contributions leading up to the breakthrough in Toronto. It was known that there was a hormone secreted in the pancreas which regulated blood sugar. The obstacle was extraction and purification, and since that was the decisive factor, it was Collip, the biochemist, who may have been the key player. This controversy, however, was not reported partly because, as Bliss points out, Ernest Hemingway, the journalist assigned to the story, was uninterested, and he hated Toronto. He was eager to leave and follow the path that would eventually lead him to his own Nobel Prize.

Bliss’ history also reveals that Canadian history is not just a boring tale of kind, polite and altruistic heroes. In the end, the four men who discovered insulin put their mutual hostilities aside and presented a good face for the public and for the historical record. They shared their Nobel prize money and gave away the patent, but behind the scenes there was plenty of resentment. At one point, Banting asked Collip to teach him how to purify the pancreatic extract, and when Collip refused, there was a physical altercation that had to be broken up by Best. Banting and Best were younger than Macleod and lacked academic jobs, while Collip was about the same age but more established in his career, being an experienced researcher and a faculty member of the University of Alberta (he was on sabbatical in Toronto that year). Collip had the essential technical skills, and Macleod was a more experienced communicator among scientists. He also had the power to make things happen at the university. Banting and Best were dependent on them and fearful of being sidelined. They didn’t have to worry, though, because they both ended up as national heroes with professorships at the University of Toronto. Banting was awarded a generous annuity by the province of Ontario.

There was enough glory for everyone to share, but the four men grew more hostile toward each other over the years. Banting despised Macleod, who eventually grew sick of working at U of T with Banting and returned to Scotland, where he died in 1935. Banting also grew tired of Best, for whom half of the Nobel money was not enough to lessen his resentment. Banting died in a plane crash in 1941, after which Best spoke continually of his role as a discoverer while dismissing the importance of Collip’s essential contribution. Collip stayed silent on the matter, content perhaps with the credit implied by the fact that his name was on the patent.

Tension was also caused by the fact that there were researchers in other countries who had made key discoveries along the way. The altruism of the patent application had the added benefit of stopping competing claims. Who would dare to challenge the Nobel decision and the patent-holders who had forfeited their rights to profit from a life-saving treatment of such enormous consequence?

Bliss mentions at the end of his 1984 article that the discovery of insulin had its detractors:

At every step in the honoring of the work, the organized antivivisectionists presented their objections to this cruel research, and their doubts that insulin would ever amount to anything. They were properly ignored, in part because of all the walking, breathing human beings who from the beginning were living proof that the dogs had been sacrificed.[13]

This tells us about an aspect of medical discoveries that has changed little over the last century. The interesting question is who would be, in the time of Covid-19 anxiety, equated with the fools who could not admit the worth of a discovery that saved millions of lives. Do you equate them with the people who have some reservations about mRNA biotechnology or the dubious wisdom of vaccine passports and coerced medical treatment? [14] Or are they like those who slander and suppress the doctors who have discovered inexpensive off-patent treatments for Covid-19?[15]

Consider what Dr. Banting’s team did in Toronto. They made their method and treatment decisions on their own, free of any interference from non-existent ethics review boards or government regulators. If insulin were discovered today, would people dismiss the discovery because it was “just an observational study” with no large, randomized clinical trials? Detractors might try to associate the treatment with unclean animals. There might be coordinated media attacks on the “cow pancreas juice” responsible for the so-called “miracle of resurrection” in Toronto. After all, maybe those children waking up from diabetic comas were just undergoing a placebo effect. Perhaps Dr. Banting had selected only the healthiest patients, or he had been making sure they strictly followed their low-carb diets. There are always ways to find methodological flaws, call for delays and further studies, and make sure new studies have a methodology that will yield the desired results. How long would it take for insulin to obtain regulatory approval? With no chance of huge profit margins and monopoly, in the same situation today Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci would dismiss the pancreas extract treatment and tell the world we need to wait for a vaccine for diabetes — perhaps an mRNA therapy that will fix the insulin production problem of defective pancreases.[16] It is easy to imagine the derogatory headlines: “Banting and Best? Banting and Worst: Cow Juice Treatment Promoters Torment the Desperate with False Hope” or “Oklahoma Diabetics Overwhelm ICUs After Injecting Homemade Pig Pancreas Paste.”[17]

But, of course, there would have to be a motive for such a smear campaign; that is, it would be used only if pharmaceutical companies had competing patentable treatments they wanted to bring to market soon. That motive wasn’t there in 1922, but it was in later decades as pharmaceutical companies patented their synthetic versions of insulin. They couldn’t use a smear campaign because the effectiveness of insulin was beyond doubt, but their actions slowly eliminated access to affordable insulin. A century after society figured out a way to produce insulin cheaply and in abundance, diabetics are dying in the richest nation on earth simply because the treatment is too expensive. Writing for Banting House in 2018, Rachel Delle Palme described the disaster:

According to the American Diabetes Association between 2003 and 2012 the price of insulin in the USA tripled. This has made this life-saving medication difficult and sometimes impossible to afford for those with Type 1 diabetes, not to mention the cost of other equipment and devices to monitor blood sugar levels and administer insulin. Even in Canada, insurance does not always cover the total cost of insulin and many people have to pay out of pocket. This greatly effects people with diabetes who are of low-income. A Diabetes Canada research study that began in 2002 reported that, “57% of Canadians with diabetes say they do not comply with their prescribed therapy because they cannot afford their medications, devices and supplies, thus potentially compromising their diabetes management.” I think looking back on the history and Banting’s sentiment that insulin belongs to the world instead of any individual should inspire discussions surrounding these issues.[18]

What lessons does The Discovery of Insulin have for us in the time of the Covid-19? After writing all this, I’m still not sure what they are. For some readers, there may be no apparent relevance, but if there is any, it is in the stark contrast with the general trend of medical science over the last century and its merger with economic and political power and state security. In 1921, none of the big foundations and no one among the top medical researchers was looking for insulin, even though knowledge of the pancreas had developed to a point that made isolation and purification of insulin possible for anyone who was ready to look for it. The discovery was made by a team of unknowns working with effectively no funding. Some might say that it is disgraceful to tell the true story behind the national hero myth constructed for Banting and Best. On the contrary, it is preferable to get the un-sanitized version of the story and be reminded that the greatest discoveries tend to occur in messy ways and in places where no one was expecting them. The character flaws of the discoverers are overshadowed by their altruism and by the fact that one of the most important medical discoveries of the century was made by ordinary mortals without, and in spite of, the billionaire philanthropists and their totalizing dreams of coercive control.

References/Notes

[1]. Michael Bliss, The Discovery of Insulin: Special Centenary Edition (University of Toronto Press, 2021, first edition by McClelland & Stewart, 1982).

[2]. Jeremy Loffredo, “‘Dr. Fauci, Mr. Hyde’: RFK Jr. Shares Details About New Book on ‘The Corbett Report,’” Children’s Health Defense, November 24, 2021. [Website]

[3]. Ashton Picas, “Abolish the Federal Reserve Act of 1913,” Change.org, Accessed September 3, 2022. [Website]

[4]. Kees Van Der Pijl, States of Emergency: Keeping the Global Population in Check (Clarity Press, 2022), 135.

[5]. Inderjeet Parmar, “Foundation Networks and American Hegemony,” European Journal of American Studies, 7-1, 2012. [DOI]

[6]. Scott W. Stern, The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women (Beacon Press, 2018).

[7] . Gary G. Kohls, MD, “Did psychopath Rockefeller create the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918?” Fort Russ News, May 22, 2020. [Website] In this article, Dr. Kohls does not claim that the influenza virus did not exist, nor does he state that the vaccination program was a deliberate depopulation strategy. In this article he argues that Rockefeller’s vaccination was a reckless experiment that damaged the immune systems of those who received it, leaving them vulnerable to numerous pathogens at a time when they (and all of Western civilization) were also submitted to trauma, over-crowding, malnutrition, and poor sanitation. Vaccination may have been an important factor in triggering the influenza pandemic, but it was not the only aggravating cause.

[8]. Ethel Hume and R.B. Pearson, Béchamp or Pasteur? A Lost Chapter in the History of Biology (A Distant Mirror, 2017), 65. [URL] Quoting page 65: “In 1881, the Sanitary Commission of the Hungarian Government said of the vaccine viruses used in the anti-anthrax inoculation: ‘The worst diseases, pneumonia, catarrhal fever, etc., have exclusively struck down the animals subjected to injection. It follows from this that the Pasteur inoculation tends to accelerate the action of certain latent diseases and to hasten the mortal issue of other grave affections.’” In contemporary vaccine research, this disastrous effect is referred to as “all-cause mortality from vaccination” or “negative non-specific effects from vaccination.” Béchamp or Pasteur? published by Distant Mirror in 2017 includes two related works: Béchamp or Pasteur? A Lost Chapter in the History of Biology by Ethel Douglas Hume, first published in 1923, and Pasteur, Plagiarist, Impostor: The Germ Theory Exploded by R.B. Pearson, first published in 1942.

[9]. Michael Bliss, “Resurrections in Toronto: Fact and Myth in the Discovery of Insulin,” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 38, no. 3 (December 1984): 15-36. [URL]

[10]. “The Discovery and Early Development of Insulin—from a Patient’s Point of View,” The Insulin Collections, University of Toronto. [Website]

[11]. Linda McQuaig, “Banting and Best would be horrified by the fate of their insulin discovery,” Toronto Star, July 28, 2021.[Website]

[12]. Michael Bliss, December 1984.

[13]. Michael Bliss, December 1984.

[14]. Dennis Riches, “Didier Raoult on the good, the bad and the ugly of all the coronavirus vaccines,” Lit by Imagination, July 23, 2021. [Website]

[15]. Diane Perlman, “Open Letter and Challenge for Rachel Maddow—Ivermectin: Truth or Consequences,” Coronawise, September 21, 2021. [Website]

[16]. Yasemin Saplakoglu, “Diabetes vaccine shows promise for some patients in early trial,” LiveScience, May 28, 2021. [Website]. Even though this article was written at the time when the Covid-19 vaccines were being distributed worldwide and debate was raging over the redefinition of “vaccine”, this author evokes no awareness of the loose definition of “vaccine” being applied to this novel treatment for diabetes. The treatment involves no targeted pathogen and no attempt to halt the spread of an infectious disease, yet it is referred to as a “vaccine” for diabetes.

[17]. Jimmy Dore, “Entire Media Pushes FAKE Ivermectin Story,” The Jimmy Dore Show, September 12, 2021. [Online video] These speculative headlines refer to the reporting done by media corporations in September 2021 that falsely alleged that thousands of Americans were overdosing and dying after taking “horse pills” (ivermectin) as a “desperate and useless” measure against Covid-19. Jimmy Dore did an excellent job of ridiculing the deliberate distortions around this issue carried out by professional journalists.

[18]. Rachel Delle Palme, “Insulin Patent Sold for $1,” Banting House, December 14, 2018. [Website]

(Featured Image: “Regular insulin and a syringe from ampoules and vials of medicines” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

Author

  • Dennis Riches

    Dennis Riches studied French language, history and literature, and language pedagogy and applied linguistics during his undergraduate and graduate studies. Since 2004, he has taught English and modern history at Seijo University in Tokyo. In recent years, he has done translations and written extensively on his personal blogs, and some of those articles have been published in the online journals Global Research and The Greanville Post. He authored the book Sayonara Nukes: The Case for Abolishing Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons, which was published in 2018 by the Center for Glocal Studies at Seijo University.