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James Collip

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James "Bert" Collip
(November 20, 1892 - June 19, 1965)
Born in Canada
Year of Discovery: 1922

Made Insulin into Usable Human Drug

James Collip knew where he was headed from an early age. At just 15 years of age, he entered Trinity College at the University of Toronto to study physiology and biochemistry. He brought this same eagerness and intensity to bear throughout his career. In 1921, Collip took a sabbatical and joined the research team of Frederick Banting. Banting had discovered an extract, taken from the pancreas, which was effective in treating diabetes. Collip took Banting's raw extract and purified it - making the newly discovered insulin suitable for human use.

Diabetes is a disease that restricts the body's ability to produce, or use, insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas of healthy individuals and is critical to the regulation of blood sugar levels. The body runs on sugar - specifically a sugar known as glucose. Glucose is the body's primary energy source, but without insulin the body can't convert sugars, starches, and other foods into energy. Instead, the sugars build up in the system and spill into the blood. This is why diabetics constantly test their blood to determine the amount of glucose it contains, and to determine the amount of insulin they need to effectively utilize the glucose. Type 1 diabetes indicates the total inability of the body to produce insulin, while type 2 diabetes indicates the body's inability to effectively use the insulin it produces (also known as insulin resistance), which can lead to heart disease, circulatory problems, kidney failure, blindness, and foot ulcers. Prior to Banting's discovery there were few options available to treat diabetes. Diet modification was prevalent and reasonably effective for many type-2 diabetics. But type-1 diabetes was a tragic disease. Also known as childhood diabetes, the body's total lack of insulin leads inevitably to death. Before Banting, the only method of delaying death was a starvation diet, typically consisting of fewer than 500 calories per day. This might extend life of tiny, emaciated children for a year. Today, diabetes continues to be a major problem. Over 170 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide, and five percent of all global deaths annually are a result of diabetes.

Frederick Banting and Charles Best had discovered insulin, which they initially called "isletin,' in the summer of 1921. But, though they had shown it was effective in treating diabetic animals, they were struggling to purify the extract for human use. It was at this time that James Collip came to conduct research at the laboratory of J.J.R. Macleod - the same lab in which Banting and Best were working. When Macleod saw the difficulty Banting and Best were having with their extract, he assigned Collip to assist them. Collip was a brilliant biochemist and he put the full force of his expertise behind the effort. Working tirelessly, Collip devised the first method by which to remove the impurities from the insulin extract, without destroying its lifesaving properties. Within a single month of being assigned his task, Collip had produced enough purified insulin for use in human clinical trials. Banting and Best first tested the extract on themselves to assure safety. They then administered Collip's purified insulin to a dying 14-year-old diabetic boy at Toronto General Hospital. The insulin worked wonderfully, saving the young boy's life. On hearing of this miraculous recovery, parents with diabetic children rushed to Toronto, creating a shortage of insulin. The University quickly partnered with the American pharmaceutical company, Lilly. There the purified form of insulin was mass-produced and became readily available to diabetics worldwide, saving millions of lives.

Though Collip's purification process was critical to the development of insulin, he was a modest man and rarely discussed his role in its discovery. Like many heroes of science, his primary goal was the greater good of mankind. To this end, he joined with Banting and Best, with whom he shared the patent for insulin, and sold it to the University of Toronto - for a single dollar.


Introduction by Tim Anderson


Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

The Canadian Encyclopedia Profile:

Wikipedia entry:

City of Westmount profile:

Doctors and Discoveries
, by John G. Simmons, discusses Collip's contribution:

Photos of Collip Later in Life
click below to view (Images: Univ. of Toronto)


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Images: University of Toronto

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Collip in academic hood - 1916
Collip camping with family - 1927
Collip graduation, Univ. of Toronto, 1912
Collip as a graduate student - 1914
James Collip - circa 1920
Collip in the lab - 1927
Collip with his parents - circa 1898
Collip (driver) with parents, sister, aunt - ca 1915
Collip with his future wife - 1915
Collip at Trinity College - circa 1908
Collip at McGill University - circa 1930

Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research

Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.

Lifesavers: Insulin

Frederick Banting
Discovered the first true miracle drug: insulin.
Charles Best
Joined Banting's insulin research team based on the flip of a coin.
J.J.R. (John) Macleod
He was the scientist who named insulin.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science