Who Discovered Diabetes

Answering the question of who discovered diabetes does not focus on one particular individual but rather on medical insights developed by various sages or physicians over the past several thousand years. Considered one of the oldest diseases afflicting humans since the emergence of modern Homo sapiens, diabetes may have been referenced in an Egyptian manuscript dating around 1500 BCE. In it, the writer describes someone as suffering from “the passing of too much urine” which, according to historians, may or may not represent a symptom of diabetes.

Much later during the 6th century BCE, an Indian physician and sage named Sushruta actually determined that this disease, although not yet referred to as “diabetes”, was the result of being overweight and living an inactive lifestyle. Sushruta further gave his patients orders to exercise, thinking that this may alleviate symptoms such as excessive urination, fatigue and dizziness.

Ancient Indian doctors also made the observation that ants were extremely attracted to the urine of those who were diagnosed with this unnamed disease, leading them to dub diabetes as “sweet urine disease”.

Historians consider the individual who discovered diabetes, or at least gave it the name, to be Aretaeus, a 1st century Greek physician who used the Greek term “to siphon” to describe diabetes. He called this disease diabetes because he considered excessive urination to be a form of “siphoning” fluids out of the body.

Over ten centuries passed before a reference to diabetes is written down in an old English text describing numerous diseases. During this time, diabetes was diagnosed in a rather old-fashioned way by hiring “urine tasters” to determine whether someone’s urine tasted sweet enough to indicate the presence of the disease. A physician named Thomas Willis decided to rename the disease due to the sugary taste detected in urine, calling it “diabetes mellitus.” “Mellitus is simply the Latin word for “honey”.

Recent Discoveries

Although many astute individuals answer to the question of who discovered diabetes, genuinely scientific knowledge regarding the disease began occurring in the late 1800s. Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering were the scientists who discovered the pancreatic component of diabetes. They did this by removing the pancreases of dogs that then developed diabetic symptoms.

Researcher Sir E.A. Sharpey-Shafter wrote a paper in 1910 suggesting that individuals who suffered from diabetes lacked a certain pancreatic chemical and decided to name this chemical insulin. Insulin is a derivative of the Latin word meaning “island” which refers to areas of the pancreas called “islets of Langerhans” which are implicated in producing insulin.

The early 1920s saw further discoveries regarding diabetes and the effects of insulin on blood glucose levels. Scientists Banting and Best are known for their research into the development insulin medication expressly for treating diabetics. Together they demonstrated that by giving diabetic dogs or dogs without a pancreas extract of the chemical produced by the Islets of Langerhans from dogs with pancreases, symptoms could be reduced and blood sugar levels regulated.

In fact, diabetic patients began using this form of treatment in 1922, leading Banting and Best to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. Today, November 14 is celebrated as World Diabetes Day, exclusively in honor of Banting.

In fact, diabetic patients began using this form of treatment in 1922, leading Banting and Best to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. Today, November 14 is celebrated as World Diabetes Day, exclusively in honor of Banting.

Who Discovered Diabetes Type 1 and Type 2?

Although he was not who discovered diabetes, Sir Harold Percival Himsworth, in 1936, described the differences between these two forms of diabetes, allowing more detailed diagnoses and treatment for diabetic patients. This also facilitated other discoveries beneficial to the advancement of diabetic therapies, such as:

  • Discovery of the amino acid sequence, leading to research and eventual disclosure of the diabetes gene;
  • Identification of metabolic syndrome and its relation to diabetes;
  • Determination that thiazolidinedione constitutes an applicable insulin sensitizer;
  • Development of biosynthetic human insulin by Genetech in 1980

As to the answer of why humans suffer from diabetes, it can best be explained by biological anthropologists who suggest that diabetes may have developed and began its genetic transmission around the time humans started living in groups, planting crops and leading more sedentary lifestyles nearly 10,000 years ago.

Learning who discovered diabetes presents a fascinating journey into shrewd awareness of ancient physicians as well as recent researchers who desire to investigate the evolution and treatment of diabetes.


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