Insulin at 100: “The Summer of 1921”


One  of the 1921-2021 Centennials in the History of Canadian Science and Technology

First posted Friday, June 4, 2021 /  Yom shishi, 24 Sivan, 5781

By David Orenstein, Danforth CTI, Retired


This Tuesday morning, June 1, 2021,  I was enjoying my morning coffee on our front porch. It’s made from coffee home delivered and ground to order a my neighbourhood café.

I was doing my CSTHA Centennials blog homework by  reading Michael Bliss’ 1982 The Discovery of Insulin.

My copy is inscribed: “Michael Bliss / Partners in Research / October 26, 2005”. Sadly it’s not inscribed to me for I picked it up, either second hand or discounted, for $7.50.

I soon fond the chapter “The Summer of 1921”, where I read on page 62 that “Dog 387, the first to be tested… died on June 1.” Precisely 100 years ago! I knew then that I had to try, with the able help of our webmaster Matt Wiseman, to get a CSTHA blog post ready for today, Friday, June 4, 2021.

I would like to dedicate this posting to the memory of Dog 387 and all the other research animals who gave up their lives for the betterment of human health (but sadly not for canine or simian health). Sadly Bliss assigned the pronouns “it /its” to Dog 387 in order to desensitise us to ”him/her”.

Other June 1921 events in the discovery of insulin:

“By the end of the fourth week of experiments on Sunday, June 12, things must have seemed to be going fairly well… [T]here were now six duct-ligated dogs and a seventh done on June 13, whose pancreases were presumably  atrophying according to the theory….

“ ‘I]n  Banting’s original notebook….:

‘June  9


Have depancreatised dog c {with macron} pedicle.

– graft into it remnant of degenerated pancreas

– later removed pedicle

– then remove graft



‘June 14. Dr. McLeod’s parting instructions

have dogs diabetic c {with macron} ratios constant for 3 days, meat diet!

(1) intra peritoneal graft

(2) subcutaneous graft

(3) whole remnant intravenous injection

(4) Divided  aq. 2h intravenous’ ”

“On Wednesday, June 15, just before Best left [for ten days of militia training], Banting completed his second successful two stage pancreotomy, on the second dog to be numbered 386. It rapidly  became diabetic….

“Best came back to Toronto on Saturday the 25th or Sunday the 26th. he then went to see [his fiancée] Margaret [Malton] and then dropped into the lab about eleven at night, [there Banting] was waiting for him [to give Best a severe talking to….”

Best still decided to take the the July/August half of the student researchship with Banting.

But that’s another story!

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