Special coins from the Royal Canadian Mint recognize significant accomplishments by exceptional Canadians. Two such Canadians were Frederick Banting and Charles Best, the researchers who discovered how to extract insulin for the treatment of diabetes. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Banting’s discovery, and to pay homage to these brilliant and compassionate scientists, the Royal Canadian Mint is releasing special $2 Canadian coins celebrating their discovery.
What Does Insulin Do?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that regulates the amount of sugar in the blood. The stomach releases sugar produced by the breakdown of carbohydrates during digestion into the bloodstream. When the blood sugar level gets too high, the pancreas releases insulin, which sends the excess sugar in the blood to the cells where it can be used for energy.
Diabetes affects the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin. With Type I diabetes, the pancreas can no longer produce any insulin. In people with Type II diabetes, the pancreas continues to produce insulin, but in insufficient quantities.
Synthetic insulin, which is genetically engineered, can be used in the treatment of both Types I and II diabetes. Not all patients with Type II diabetes require insulin, but it is the only effective treatment for Type I diabetes.
How Did Banting and Best Make the Discovery?
By the 20th century, scientists had determined that the pancreas had a significant role to play in the metabolism of blood sugar. They theorized, correctly, that the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas secreted a hormone that worked to regulate it, referring to the hypothetical substance as insulin. What no one could figure out was how to isolate and extract the insulin so it could be used to treat diabetes.
The death of a friend from diabetes during childhood sparked Banting’s interest in becoming a doctor and studying the disease. Early in the morning on Oct. 31st, 1920, Banting had a sudden flash of inspiration that led to his discovery of how to extract insulin. He had the idea that he could isolate the pancreatic secretions that turned out to be insulin by tying off the pancreatic ducts of living dogs. This would prevent the pancreas from producing the enzymes that broke down insulin, allowing it to be extracted from the still-intact islets of Langerhans and refined sufficiently to treat diabetes in humans.
With his assistant, Best, , Banting was able to isolate, extract, and refine the insulin so that it was safe to test on humans. Their first human test subject was a critically ill 13-year-old diabetic named Leonard Thompson, who was injected with the pancreatic extracts. Initial treatment seemed unsuccessful, but after persisting for 12 days, the team succeeded in returning Thompson’s blood sugar levels to normal. The first trial took place in January 1922; Banting and his supervisor won the Nobel Prize for their discovery the following year.
While Banting and Best’s discovery was not a cure for diabetes, it significantly improved the prognosis and the quality of life for diabetics, who previously had a life expectancy of only a few months. Millions of people around the world have diabetes. Their lives, and those of their families, have been significantly impacted by Banting and Best’s discovery.
How Is the Royal Canadian Mint Celebrating the Discovery?
The Royal Canadian Mint is celebrating the discovery of insulin with a special $2 circulation coin. It features an artistic representation of sugar in the bloodstream, the tools involved in Banting and Best’s scientific research, and an insulin molecule. The molecule is coloured blue to represent diabetes awareness. The coins are available to purchase in rolls of 25. Coloured and uncoloured versions are both available in a collectible circulation set. There is also a pure gold commemorative coin featuring the same design without the colour.
We are proud that the artist behind the design of this coin is Jesse Koreck who, like Colonial Acres Coins, is based in Kitchener. Purchase this coin today celebrating this Canadian scientific innovation.