January 22, 2023

New Awareness Day Subject of Motion in Scottish Parliament

A new awareness day inspired by the legacy of renowned Scottish physiologist John Macleod is now the subject of a motion in the Scottish Parliament, ahead of its launch tomorrow.


World Insulin Day launches tomorrow (Monday 23 January), on the anniversary of the world’s first successful dose of clinically useful insulin for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes. A logo has also been unveiled to recognise the global day on the 23rd and for years to come.

World Insulin Day launches tomorrow (Monday 23 January), on the anniversary of the world’s first successful dose of clinically useful insulin for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes.

The motion submitted by Douglas Lumsden MSP and lodged on 12thJanuary includes the request that the Parliament recognises the new awareness day, 23rd January as World Insulin Day. The motion is also currently supported by Karen Adam, Jackie Baillie, Jeremy Balfour, Colin Beattie, Miles Briggs, Donald Cameron, Jackson Carlaw, Foysol Choudhury, Sharon Dowey, Pam Duncan-Glancy, Russell Findlay, Murdo Fraser, Kenneth Gibson, Pam Gosal, Dr. Sandesh Gulhane (Registered interest ), Craig Hoy, Liam Kerr, Stephen Kerr, Bill Kidd, Ruth Maguire, John Mason, Roz McCall, Stuart McMillan, Edward Mountain, Emma Roddick, Alexander Stewart, Paul Sweeney, David Torrance, Sue Webber, Annie Wells, Tess White, Brian Whittle and Beatrice Wishart.

Talking of the Scottish parliamentary motion and support of MSPs, John Otto, Founder and Chairman of the JJR Macleod Memorial Statue Society in Aberdeen, says “It’s a great source of pride to have this kind of official recognition of John Macleod’s historic legacy”.

Mr Otto continues, “Our goal for World Insulin Day is to raise awareness of Professor Macleod, who expertly led the University of Toronto team that discovered insulin. An equally important goal of this day is to set the record straight about the exact date this medical breakthrough actually happened.”

On 23 January 1922, Canadian teenager Leonard Thompson was given the first dose of purified Toronto insulin. Within hours, his physical condition and tests improved dramatically, signaling the team’s success in isolating and preparing the long-sought, life-saving treatment for diabetes. Prior to this, people with what is now known as Type 1 diabetes typically survived only a matter of months from diagnosis.

The injection on 23 January was actually Thompson's second dose of pancreas extract, as the first dose was unsuccessful. Prepared by team members Frederick Banting and Charles Best and administered on 11 January, the initial extract had only a marginal effect on urinary glucose and its impurities caused an adverse reaction at the injection site.

A more purified version of insulin, prepared by James Collip using a method suggested by Macleod, was injected 12 days later and worked sensationally. All Thompson’s symptoms disappeared and he lived another 13 years before dying of pneumonia. Today, more than a century after history was made on 23 January 1922, this “miracle treatment” has saved tens of millions of lives around the globe.

Insulin was one of the most important medical advances of the 20th century and Frederick Banting and John Macleod shared the 1923 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. Despite this, Macleod’s instrumental role as the hugely experienced and accomplished leader of the University of Toronto laboratory has been almost entirely overlooked; instead, the discovery of insulin is frequently and inaccurately attributed only to “Banting and Best”.

“The fact that Macleod continues to be ‘air brushed from history’ is a source of great frustration to anyone who knows the genuine story of the discovery of insulin,” says Mr Otto, who has lived with Type 1 diabetes himself for nearly 50 years. “It’s equally frustrating that 11 January is often cited as the date of the first successful use of insulin, when in truth it was the 23rd of the month.  

“It’s something of a historical injustice that World Diabetes Day is celebrated each November on Banting’s birthday. As meticulously laid out in Michael Bliss’s 1982 book, The Discovery of Insulin, Banting’s fabled ‘great idea’ had been abandoned for some time before the team came up with the winning formula. An awareness day marking the date of the true Toronto breakthrough – credited to the combined efforts of Banting, Best, Collip and most of all Macleod – is long overdue.”

In addition to World Insulin Day, the 100th anniversary of Professor Macleod’s Nobel Prize will be celebrated in Autumn 2023, when a bronze and granite memorial honouring the Scottish scientist is to be unveiled in Aberdeen, the city he called home for many years.