Insulin 100

by Canadian Innovation Space
Nov 15, 2020

Canadian history is full of ‘defining moments’ which have shaped our shared pathways to today. Defining Moments Canada exists to bring fresh voice to these inspiring stories and imagine rich engaging new opportunities for digital learning in 21st century classrooms. Many are stories of resilience, perseverance, and achievement that illustrate the best of the Canadian innovative spirit; among the greatest of these is the discovery of Insulin.

Over the next three years, Defining Moments Canada is commemorating the remarkable achievements of a team of doctors and scientists who, a century ago, collaborated to discover and develop insulin. The ground-breaking medical advancements of Drs. Frederick Banting, Charles Best, J.J.R MacLeod and J.B. Collip not only saved the lives of millions around the world, but also became a catalyst for research that would shape Canadian medical history throughout the 20th century.

Before 1920, the ravages of Diabetes – especially for young Canadians – were all-too-apparent. Thousands died each year from a disease that had confounded scientists for centuries. The discovery of Insulin in 1921 by the team at Connaught Labs University of Toronto would change that, and their collaboration provides a remarkable example of ‘resilience through innovation’ for future generations of researchers worldwide.  In the decades to come, the significant impact of this discovery reached beyond science and medicine into the social, economic, cultural, and political sectors, following the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Banting, Best, MacLeod and Collip in 1923.

With multiple partners nationwide, Defining Moments Canada is marking one hundred years since this critical moment in Canadian medical history with an exciting new virtual exhibition and an inspiring array of educational tools for ‘Curatorial Thinking’ – a core competency for digital learners.

Faced with a deluge of information in their daily life, it is essential that students become masters of their own knowledge-building both inside and outside the classroom. Curatorial thinking empowers students to discover new connections across subject lines; they are able to both contribute to our understanding of the past and to positively influence the future. At its ideal, Curatorial Thinking inspires critical inquiry – questioning and conducting research just the way the insulin team did a century ago – challenging students across Canada to understand the impact of Insulin over the last 100 years.

Defining Moments Canada is profiling Canadian Diabetes stories, scholarly research, and historical artefacts and images using a novel transdisicplinary approach that encourages teachers and students to understand Diabetes as a ‘syndemic’ – a concept used among public health, health social science, and medical researchers to refer to the dangerous interaction of two or more diseases in a population which can lead to worse health outcomes. Understanding Diabetes through a ‘syndemic’ framework finds solutions by identifying connections between conditions and across disciplines and tackling these linkages as well as individual diseases.

A century after the discovery of Insulin, the significance of COVID-19 reminds us of the importance of educating for innovation.  Centering learning at the intersection of public health and public education for young Canadians affords a unique opportunity to be inspired by the achievements of great researchers and attributes required to respond to a syndemic crisis.



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Categories: Innovation Week, Stories
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