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Saturdays with Stella: Fredrick Banting and the Great Idea

Stella is my 10-year-old daughter and on Saturdays, I let her rent this space from me because she thinks blogs are cool. It is her hope that her writing will appeal to kids her age as well as to the adults who read here too. For the intro to Saturdays with Stella, click here

Example of Connaught insulin produced in Toronto, 1923


Fredrick Banting and the Great Idea: A Life Story

You may have heard of Fredrick Banting, but not necessarily know what he did. You may not have even heard of him, but I can tell you that he was truly amazing. He invented insulin, and you may not know what that is either. Do not fret because I too did not know who he is, and what insulin was until I read about him.

A painting of Frederick Banting found in the National Portrait Gallery of Canada.

Insulin is a substance that is created by the pancreas that allows the body to convert food into energy. If a person has the disease diabetes they cannot convert their food into energy. Before Fredrick Banting got his idea for artificial insulin, the only way for a diabetic person to survive was to slowly starve to death. Now on with the story.

In the little town of Alliston (now known as New Tecumseh) Fredrick was born, the youngest of six other siblings on November 14, 1891. He grew up going to school just like everyone else until one day he was walking home from school and he saw two workers fall from a scaffold and get hurt. Young Fredrick Banting ran as fast as his little legs could carry him to get help. Soon he was back with two doctors following close behind. As he watched the doctor’s work he decided on that very afternoon that he would become a doctor when he grew up. And he had no idea of the wonderful discovery that he would someday make in the distant future.

So as the story continues, Fredrick Banting studies really hard and all his hard work pays off when he graduates. So one night he was preparing to give a lecture to some university students the next day but he could not sleep. He was busy puzzling over an article about diabetes. Then he suddenly got his amazing idea for artificial insulin. He flipped open his note book and wrote down his revolutionary idea.

“Diabetus….ligate pancreatic ducts of dogs. Keep dogs alive till acini degenerate leaving islets. Try to isolate the secreatin of these to relieve glycosurea” — Source “Famous Dead Canadians.” Joanne Stanbridge. Scholastic.

And this small messy sentence (containing a few spelling mistakes) was just a little seed, but Fredrick Banting had what it took to grow it into a reality.

As you may know when a new medical treatment is made it generally is tested on animals like mice. Fredrick Banting did not use rodents, he used dogs. This was a bit of a problem because when he was young his family had a dog. So Fredrick would sometimes make friends with the dogs and when they died of shock or infection he would cry.

Fredrick Banting working with a dog in his lab.

So Fredrick and his partner, Charles Best, would work all the time to purify the insulin that they had made.  Until one day on January 23, 1922 Leonard Tompson received the first ever successful batch of insulin. This was amazing to see because he soon began to gain weight and lead a healthy life.

A letter from a child, thanking Frederick Banting.


Fredrick Banting was the first Canadian to receive a Nobel Prize or to be knighted for a scientific cause. He was selected as the fourth best Canadian in 2004 and had won a Military Cross in 1919 for heroism. But even though he was world famous he spent the rest of his career trying to find cures for drowning, cancer and silicosis. So when war broke out he took a plane to England but tragically died after  a crash from a brain injury.

Now you know about the noble Fredrick Banting you may feel inspired because at his time a cure was thought to be impossible, but today 1.7 million diabetic Canadians are grateful for the discovery. So go and make your own discoveries!


  1. Sarah MCCormack says:

    I loved this Stella! He was truly a Canadian hero. there are so many illnesses that still need cures and I know there are others like him who are dedicating their lives to unlocking the many mysteries of disease. Perhaps you will be one of them? And if not, you can bring attention to their work by WRITING about it!

  2. Pam Dillon says:

    Great story, Stella. Very interesting and informative. I didn’t know all those things about Banting.

  3. Ross Harrison says:

    Thanks Stella. Interesting article. Millions of people take insulin every day with no connection or thought to where it came from and the back ground of research and testing to develop it. I will google for more information on how it is made (I have no idea). Thanks Stella for opening a new door for me for self learning.


  4. what a well written and interesting piece! you are such a talented writer stella!!

  5. thank you for such an interesting story about Banting. I did not know that he was awarded the Military Cross. He was truly a hero to so many Canadians and people in the world.

  6. Ralph Harrison says:

    Hi Stella. An excellent article about a great canadian. Looking forward to the next one.

  7. Wow what an impact He had on the lives of many people around the world. Very well written and informative article. I look forward to the next one.

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