Patrick Kinghan recalls the first time he stepped into Dr. Frederick Banting’s spartan bedroom. There was the daisy-splashed wallpaper; the simple iron bed and, on the night-table beside it, the scrawled 25-word hypothesis that would go on to save millions of lives.
Kinghan, a Western University public history student who interned at Banting House National Historical Site in London, Ont. last summer, was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 17 years old, nine years after his older brother received the same diagnosis.
“Being in that room, that physical space, is really powerful. Because of Banting’s idea, I’m alive and my brother is alive.”
This is where it all began: with a young Western medical lecturer’s 2 a.m. ‘eureka’ moment that led to insulin as a treatment for diabetes.
Path of discoveries
And this is where it continues: the collaborative research discoveries that prevent and treat diabetes, and work to reduce the collateral damage it can wreak.
Today, Western, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Lawson Health Research Institute, London Health Sciences Centre, St. Joseph’s Health Care London and Banting House are marking the 100th anniversary of the discovery that became a game-changer for patients with diabetes.
Collectively, the institutions have produced a special digital project that highlights – in photos, videos, infographics and word stories – some of the groundbreaking diabetes work of London researchers, and compelling patient stories of perseverance and hope.
Together, they are improving patient lives and paving the way for innovation in diabetes research, education and care.
- Rob Hegele, who is finding causal genes and mutations for more than 20 medical conditions, including several inherited forms of diabetes.
- Kristin Clemens, who began a diabetes outreach program – through London Health Sciences Centre’s Kidney Care Centre, with financial support from the St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation – to combat the socio-economic challenges confronting patients who manage diabetes and advanced kidney disease.
- Irene Hramiak, whose research explores the benefits of an intensive course of insulin and medications, along with lifestyle changes, before the disease can progress into complications.
- Alexandria Ratzki-Leewing and Dr. Stewart Harris, and their ground-breaking study of hypoglycemia and what happens when a diabetic’s blood sugar gets too low.
- Dr Subrata Chakrabarti and Saumik Biswas, whose study of diabetes at the molecular level has fueled breakthrough research in early diagnosis of retinal damage.
- Michelle Mottola, one of North America’s top researchers on gestational diabetes and the importance of exercise during pregnancy.
- Wilson Rodger and Dr. Gerald Tevaarwerk, who led the launch of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Diabetes Education Centre – now the Diabetes Education Centre (DEC) of St. Joseph’s Health Care London, with 12,000 patient visits annually.
- Stewart Harris, whose team provides training and coaching support for Indigenous communities’ local solutions to diabetes.
- David Hess, exploring stem cell therapy and bioengineering to identify which proteins are essential to islet regeneration.
- Charlotte McDonald, one of the leaders of a large-scale, multi-site study examining the long-term complications of diabetes and implications for treatment.
Legacy, life and hope
Each researcher carries on the legacy of Sir Frederick Banting. And so does every person who has participated in the evolution of treatment and care.
Among them: toddler Brienne Ketelaars, diagnosed with diabetes a year ago; and septuagenarian Bob Seneshen, who has lived more than half a century with diabetes, and whose father, Judge John M. Seneshen, was the driving force behind the Flame of Hope at Banting House – the birthplace of insulin.
Kinghan is part of that timeline too.
Ultimately, there are 442 million people and their families who eagerly await a cure or cures.
Until then, Kinghan keeps in mind the family who, as he toured them through Banting House, began sobbing while standing in Banting’s bedroom. “They said, ‘These are happy tears. This man saved our boy’s life. He’s our hero,’” Kinghan recalled. “It was so powerful and such a privilege to share that moment.”