History of diabetes treatment chronicled in New York Historical Society exhibition

October 15, 2010

Recalling the desperate fight for life that was waged by juvenile diabetes patients not even a century ago, "Breakthrough: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of Insulin" will be on view at the New York Historical Society from October 2010 through January 2011.

Highlighting the roles of science, government, higher education, and industry in the development and distribution of a life-saving drug, the exhibition will bring to life the personalities who discovered insulin and raced to bring it to the world, and will tell the story of one extraordinary girl - Elizabeth Evans Hughes, daughter of statesman and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes - who was among the very first patients to be saved.

"This is a powerful story that deals with type 1 diabetes and the discovery of insulin in that very early period. You can imagine the number of desperate people all over the world who wanted [an effective treatment]," said Stephen Edidin, chief curator of the Society's Museum Division.

Responding to the urgent need for insulin, scientists quickly ran human trials and other tests, and thanks in part to a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Eli Lilly and Company, the first such between an academic institution and a drug company, the drug was on the market within 2 years of its discovery. "That would not have happened today, if you think about how long it takes from the point a drug is discovered to when it is manufactured," Edidin said.

Also noted is the contribution made by John D. Rockefeller and the members of the Rockefeller Institute to ensure that insulin would be available to diabetes sufferers.