Sir Frederick Grant Banting
Sir Frederick Grant Banting, co-discoverer of insulin (b at Alliston, Ont 14 Nov 1891; d near Musgrave Harbour, Nfld 21 Feb 1941).
Sir Frederick Grant Banting, co-discoverer of insulin (b at Alliston, Ont 14 Nov 1891; d near Musgrave Harbour, Nfld 21 Feb 1941). Youngest of 5 children of a middle-class farm family, Fred Banting persevered through high school, failed first year in arts at University of Toronto and then enrolled in medicine. He graduated in 1916 with above average grades, served as a medical officer in France, where he was wounded in action and decorated for valour, and in 1919-20 completed his training as an orthopedic surgeon. In July 1920 he began the practice of medicine in London, Ontario.
On the night of 31 October 1920, after reading a routine article in a medical journal, Banting wrote down an idea for research aimed at isolating the long-sought internal secretion of the pancreas. He received support for his proposed research at U of T, where he began work on 17 May 1921 under the direction of J.J.R. Macleod and assisted by C.H. Best. Banting's and Best's experiments were crudely conducted and did not substantiate Banting's idea, which was physiologically incorrect. But their apparently favourable results encouraged greater efforts, which culminated in the winter of 1921-22 in the discovery of insulin by a team of researchers that included Macleod, Banting, J.B. Collip and Best.
Insulin was immediately and spectacularly effective as a lifesaving therapy for diabetes mellitus. Banting was hailed as the principal discoverer of insulin because his idea had launched the research, because of his prominence in the early use of insulin, and because he and his friends carried on a campaign to discredit his senior collaborators, Macleod and Collip, with whom he was temperamentally incompatible. On learning that he was to share the 1923 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine with Macleod, Banting gave half his prize money to Best. He was awarded a life annuity by the federal government, appointed Canada's first professor of medical research at U of T and knighted in 1934.
Banting supervised important research into silicosis and problems in aviation medicine before his death on a flight to England in 1941 to look into the state of medical research there. But his own research was trivial, for he was not in fact a skilled or well-trained scientist. The burden of his fame weighed heavily on an insecure but determined man, leading to a turbulent personal life and considerable unhappiness. He became an accomplished amateur painter, whose work strongly reflects the influence of his friend and sketching companion, A.Y Jackson. He was survived by his second wife and by a son from his first marriage. In several magazine polls during his lifetime, he was judged the most famous living Canadian.