A Short History of Diabetes

Diabetes has been with us for a long time. As far back as 1500 years B.C. and more the symptoms of diabetes, constant thirst and urination, were being written about by the doctors of their time. A short, summarized, history of diabetes follows:

Ancient Egypt, Third Dynasty
Hesy-Ra, possibly the first known physician, and known as the Chief of Dentists and Physicians, recognized the disease that we now know as diabetes.

2nd Century Greece
The Greek physician Arateus coined the word diabetes translated from the Greek word meaning “siphon”  or “flowing through” referring to the symptoms of thirst and urine produced by diabetics.

150 AD
Aretaeus give us one of the first clinical descriptions of the disease which later researchers discover to be, in large part, inaccurate.

16th Century
Swiss physician Phillipus Paracelsus identifies diabetes as a serious general disorder.

Matthew Dobson of England distilled the urine of a diabetic patient, scientifically demonstrating the presence of sugar in urine. This also enable the amount of sugar to be measured.

English physician Thomas Cawley makes the first link between the pancreas and diabetes.

Scottish physician John Rollo using the glucose test developed earlier by Matthew Dobson, creates the first medical therapy to treat diabetes. This will be the primary treatment used for diabetics for over a hundred years, until the 1920s.

French pharmacist and hygienist and founder of diabetology. He recognized the role of diet in diabetes when he noticed the disappearance of glycosuria in his diabetes patients during food rationing of food under the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War. Based on this he came up with the idea of dietary control of diabetes. He also speculated that the main cause of diabetes would be found in the pancreas.

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German internist and physiologist produced experimental diabetes in dogs by removing their pancreas. This proved the role of the pancreas in diabetes and helped to advance the understanding of the disease.

Boston pathologist Elliott Joslin authored the classic “The Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus” in which he documented a thousand of his cases and noted that when diabetic patients were treated with a combination of fasting and exercise that their mortality rate decreased 20 percent. It was not ’til years later that the consensus among other doctors agreed with his theory that a carbohydrate restricted diet in combination with exercise and insulin adjustment could increase the life span of diabetics.

Two scientists at the University of Toronto (Dr. Fredrick Banting, Charles Best, Professor J.J.R Macleod, and Dr. James Collip)isolate the hormone insulin thereby revolutionizing the treatment of diabetic patients.

Chemist Helen Free invents the home diabetes test.

After 10 years of clinical study involving over 1441 diabetic patients, the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) report is published and clearly demonstrates that intensive therapy delays the onset and progression of long-term complications in individuals with type 1 diabetes.

In the 21st century, The fight against diabetes is still on-going with the promise of gene therapy having a significant impact on the disease at some date not too far into the future.