History of Diabetes

The first mention of diabetes to date occurred 2000 years ago. The illness was first named by a Greek physician, who described it as “the mysterious sickness”.  Other physicians in ancient times recognized and documented the symptoms of diabetes but they were powerless. The word diabetes mellitus originates from the greek word diabetes, which means “to pass through” and melitus is linked to latin, meaning “honey sweet”.

Milestones in the history of diabetes

17th century: Dr. Thomas Willis started diabetes diagnosis through urine sampling. This method was the only one used until the 20th century.

Early 20th century: Dr. Frederick Allen prescribed low calorie diets to his patients. This diet resulted in longer life with diabetes, but patients were almost starving from the low calorie intake.

1921 the discovery of insulin: Dr. Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best in Toronto, Canada, made a diabetic dog live 70 days with injection of canine pancreas extract. Together with Dr. Bertram Collip and Dr. John Macleod, the doctors created a more refined extract of insulin. With that they treated Leonard Thompson, a young boy dying of diabetes. In the next 24 hours Leonard’s blood sugar level dropped down to almost normal levels.

The news of this discovery spread quickly around the world and in 1923 Dr. Banting and Dr. Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their discovery. Since then medical discovery kept improving living conditions for diabetes patients.

1935 the discovery of two types of diabetes: Dr. Roger Hinsworth discovered the two types of diabetes: “insulin sensitive” (type I) and “insulin insensitive” (type II). This differentiation allowed for more targeted and specific treatments to be developed.

1950s oral medications (sulfonylureas): New oral medications were developed for people suffering from type II diabetes. The function of this form of medicine was to stimulate insulin production in the pancreas.

1960s urine strips invention: The introduction of urine strips simplified the way of detecting the blood sugar level. Patients could easily start to monitor their condition themselves.

1969 first portable glucose meter: Ames Diagnostics invented the first portable glucose meter. Since then, technology contributed to the invention of portable and increasingly smaller devices.

Late ’70s invention of the insulin pump: The mechanism of the insulin pump imitates the body’s release of insulin. However the first pumps to dispense insulin were big and heavy. The advancement of technology allowed for more simple and portable devices.

1979 the first needle-free insulin delivery system: in 1979 Derrata distributed the first needle-free insulin delivery system. This was very heavy and expensive. But this was the first important step toward the modern compact needle-free injectors with adjustable pressure.

1979 the invention of the hemoglobin A1c test: The hemoglobin test allowed a more precise measurement of blood sugar levels. The A1c became a standard measurement for blood sugar control in the famous ten-year study 1983-1993 – the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT).

Research showed that people able to maintain their blood glucose level close to normal had less chance to develop complications. This evidence changed doctors approach toward blood glucose level control. It was now clear that monitoring together with the treatment could definitely make a difference in patients’ lives.

1995 the approval of Metformin: Metformin is an oral medication for type II diabetes patients. It was approved by the United States FDA in 1995. Metformin acts in the liver by reducing the production of glucose. Sulfonylurea drugs instead act by increasing insulin release in the pancreas. These two medication have proven to be more effective if used together by type II diabetes patients.