Diabetes Self-Management Blog

One of the great things about living in New York is there’s never a shortage of museums — and new museum exhibits — to visit. Recently I had the pleasure of attending a press preview of a new show at the New-York Historical Society Museum, entitled “Breakthrough: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of Insulin.”

AutoSyringe

AutoSyringe, 1979. Courtesy of Medtronic through Eli Lilly and Company Archives.

The exhibit commemorates the discovery of insulin in 1921, its initial use in humans in 1922, and the subsequent effort to produce it on a large enough scale to supply it to all of the people who needed it. It includes photos of and letters to and from diabetes patients and researchers of that era; photos, a film clip, lab notebooks, and other documents from insulin manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company; and a few examples of historical diabetes equipment, including some early insulin vials and syringes, a bulky early insulin pump called the AutoSyringe from 1979 (which I didn’t even recognize as an insulin pump), and some more modern but still dated-looking insulin pumps from the early 1980’s.

A small portion of the show focuses on Elizabeth Hughes (daughter of statesman Charles Evans Hughes), who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11 and became one of the first people to try insulin in 1922. A few of her letters from that time are on view, along with family photos and pages from her logbook detailing not just how much insulin she took and how many grams of carbohydrate, protein, and fat she ate, but also how much cream, eggs, butter, bacon, meat or fish, “gel,” vegetables, fruit, cheese, and “oat.” she consumed each day as she gained back the weight she had lost, both from her diabetes and from the near-starvation diet that had kept her alive for three years.

The “Breakthrough” exhibit runs through January 31, 2011, so anyone planning a visit to New York City between now and then will want to put it on their list of things to do. (The New-York Historical Society Museum is easy to find: It’s on Central Park West between 76th and 77th Streets, right next door to the American Museum of Natural History.)

If you can’t make it to the show in person, you can see many of the documents in the show related to Elizabeth Hughes, as well as those of some other early insulin users, online at the University of Toronto Web site.

Girl Injecting Herself
Girl injecting herself with insulin (Lilly Girl), 1930. Courtesy of Eli Lilly and Company Archives.

The Historical Society exhibit was inspired by a recently published book with a similar title, Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle, written by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg and published by St. Martin’s Press in 2010. Breakthrough is a work of historical fiction, with imagined dialogue, thoughts, feelings, and even perspiration mixed in with the historical facts.

Elizabeth Hughes’s story has also been told in a more conventional biographical style by history professor Caroline Cox in her book, The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes, and the Discovery of Insulin, published by Kaplan Publishing in 2009.

Readers interested in the history of diabetes treatment may also enjoy the book The Discovery of Insulin, written by professor of Canadian History Michael Bliss and often referred to as the “definitive” book on the development of insulin. It was first published by the University of Chicago Press in 1982, and a 25th-anniversary edition was published in 2007. While Elizabeth Hughes makes an appearance in this book as well, the action focuses primarily on researcher Frederick Banting, his lab assistant Charles Best, and assorted other colleagues (and rivals) as they try to figure out what insulin is and how to isolate it so it can be used therapeutically.

POST A COMMENT       
  

Comments
  1. Thanks for the review of the exhibit. I plan on going to see it myself soon. (That insulin pump is amazing!) And I second the recommendation for _The Discovery of Insulin_.

    Posted by Jeff Mather |

Post a Comment

Note: All comments are moderated and there may be a delay in the publication of your comment. Please be on-topic and appropriate. Do not disclose personal information. Be respectful of other posters. Only post information that is correct and true to your knowledge. When referencing information that is not based on personal experience, please provide links to your sources. All commenters are considered to be nonmedical professionals unless explicitly stated otherwise. Promotion of your own or someone else's business or competing site is not allowed: Sharing links to sites that are relevant to the topic at hand is permitted, but advertising is not. Once submitted, comments cannot be modified or deleted by their authors. Comments that don't follow the guidelines above may be deleted without warning. Such actions are at the sole discretion of DiabetesSelfManagement.com. Comments are moderated Monday through Friday by the editors of DiabetesSelfManagement.com. The moderators are employees of Madavor Media, LLC., and do not report any conflicts of interest. A privacy policy setting forth our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of certain information relating to you and your use of this Web site can be found here. For more information, please read our Terms and Conditions.


Insulin & Other Injected Drugs
Insulin for Type 2 (07/14/14)
FDA Approves Inhalable Insulin (07/03/14)
FDA Approves Weekly Type 2 Diabetes Medicine (04/18/14)
Do You Know Your Insulin Level? (10/25/13)

 

 

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: You understand that the blog posts and comments to such blog posts (whether posted by us, our agents or bloggers, or by users) do not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs. The opinions and other information contained in the blog posts and comments do not reflect the opinions or positions of the Site Proprietor.


Blood Glucose Self-Monitoring — Part 1: The Gear
Blood glucose self-monitoring is one of the keys to diabetes control. Here are the tools you need to carry out this task.

Perfectionism: An Impossible Goal in Diabetes Management
Striving for good self-care is important, but perfectionism can make diabetes care — and life — more difficult.

Recipes for Spring
Enjoy recipes for Baked salmon on beet greens, Tofu and snow pea slaw, Radish and cucumber salad, Spinach pinwheels, Beet salad with citrus dressing, and Stuffed berries.

Complete table of contents
Get a FREE ISSUE
Subscription questions