Without the work of Nicolae Paulescu the history of medicine would probably have a different course, particularly the history of diabetic medicine. The distinguished Romanian scientist was the first to discover insulin (which he called pancreine).
In 1916 Paulescu developed an aqueous pancreatic extract which normalized the blood sugar levels in a diabetic dog. He had to interrupt his experiments during the World War I till 1921 when he wrote an extensive whitepaper on the effect of the pancreatic extract injected into a diabetic animal: Research on the Role of the Pancreas in Food Assimilation. The paper was published in August 1921 in the Archives Internationales de Physiologie.
His discovery was patented on April 10, 1922 by the Romanian Ministry of Industry and Trade – patent no. 6254.
And the Nobel Prize Goes to…
In 1923 two other scientists were to be recognized as the creators of insulin: doctor Frederick Grant Banting and biochemist John James Richard Macleod.
Curiously enough, in 1921 Banting started performing the experiments that led to the “discovery of insulin” on dogs, inspired by the early works of Polish-German physician Oscar Minkowski who in 1889 removed the pancreas from a healthy dog to test its assumed role in digestion.
If you go back at the beginning of the article you will note that Paulescu was successfully performing the same type of experiments in 1916.
By the time Banting isolated insulin, Paulescu already held a patent for its discovery. Moreover, Banting was familiar with Paulescu’s work.
He even uses Paulescu’s “Research on the Role of the Pancreas in Food Assimilation” as reference in the paper that brought him the Nobel, although he misquotes:
He states that injections into peripheral veins produce no effect and his experiments show that second injections do not produce such marked effect as the first
This might sound a bit nationalist, but do you honestly believe Banting’s “excuse:”
I regret very much that there was an error in our translation of Professor Paulescu’s article, I cannot recollect, after this length of time, exactly what happened (…) I do not remember whether we relied on our own poor French or whether we had a translation made. In any case I would like to state how sorry I am for this unfortunate error (…)
There were obscure times back in the 1920s and I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that the Canadians simply used Paulescu’s work in their own benefit. Banting misquoted Paulescu in his paper – which was obviously detrimental for the Romanian scientist. The Nobel Committee back in 1923 didn’t bother to proof too much the “discoveries” submitted to their attention.
Recognition After 50 Years
We have Professor Ian Murray to thank for the international recognition of Paulescu’s work. This followed in 1971, almost 50 years after Paulescu’s discovery of insulin.
Insufficient recognition has been given to Paulescu, the distinguished Romanian scientist, who at the time when the Toronto team were commencing their research had already succeeded in extracting the antidiabetic hormone of the pancreas and proving its efficacy in reducing the hyperglycemia in diabetic dogs.
Today this recognition doesn’t serve us much. The discovery of insulin is wrongly attributed to the two Canadian scientists. Almost all publications that write about the discovery of insulin state that:
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. It was isolated in 1921-22 at the University of Toronto.
Paulescu’s experiments from 1916 are completely ignored. He is not even mentioned on Banting’s biographical site, not even at least as a precursor. I think this is one of those historical injustices that will never be amended.