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The 100-year-old drug that has saved millions of lives

The 100-year-old drug that has saved millions of lives

100 years ago, two scientists in a lab in Canada made a discovery that would save countless lives.

Dr Frederick Banting and Charles Best were the first to successfully isolate insulin from the ground-up pancreas of a laboratory dog and keep a second dog with severe diabetes alive for 70 days.

After months of development, they administered their first dose of insulin to a human.

Saving Phyllis

Phyllis Lush was just six years old when she became the first Australian and one of the first in the world to receive a life-saving dose of insulin in 1922.

When her father heard of the Canadian experiments, he wrote to the scientists pleading for them to save his daughter.

“We’re close, keep her alive,” came the reply.

After being diagnosed with the disease one year prior, Phyllis weighed less than 10 kilograms and survived on a lettuce leaf, a teaspoon of butter and whey each day until her first dose.

“It was nothing. She was skin and bone,” her son Studley Lush told AAP.

“Before mother got insulin, her sister who was about two was bigger than she was.”

Almost immediately after the first of the 65,000 injections she would receive in her lifetime, Phyllis felt better and ate her first proper meal.

“They gave her half a SAO biscuit and she remembered it as the best meal she’s ever had,” Mr Lush said.

“And then they were told she should probably live until she was nine. She lived until she was nearly 82.”

100 years on

A century after its discovery, 45,000 Australians rely on the hormone every day to regulate their blood sugar.

Massive strides have been made in managing the disease since then too.

Most people with diabetes now use a synthetic “human” insulin rather than the original form created from cows and other animals.

The tools have changed drastically too, from cumbersome needles to the small single-use pins now available.

“These new devices can pretty much do what a pancreas would do in a person whose own doesn’t create insulin,” Diabetes Australia chief executive Professor Greg Johnson said.

Though Phyllis would marvel at the progress that has been made since she passed away in 1998, Mr Lush said she would be disappointed that we haven’t achieved one thing.

“Her greatest wish in life was that they would find a cure.”