Dinner Program and Speeches

100th Anniversary Dinner Celebrating the Nobel Prize to Banting and Macleod, November 27, 2023

Dr Peter Kopplin, Secretary, Toronto Medical Historical Club

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Peter Kopplin, and I am the secretary of the Toronto Medical Historical Club.  Somehow, I don’t think this club has been high on your radar.  But let me come back to the club in a minute. 

I would first like to than two people without whose imagination and perseverance this event would not have taken place.  Dr John Dirks and Mr. Gary Goldberg have worked collectively to bring about the symposium and dinner.  They have raised the funds and when paths were blocked found new paths. The committee that they have worked with are grateful for their leadership.

I would like to tell you two things about the club.  It has been meeting regularly without fail since 1924. January of 2024 will mark its 100th birthday.    Secondly, a well-known Canadian historian once asked me if Sir Federick Banting had been a member of the club.   While the minutes of the club do not go back that far, a collection of the papers do and indeed he was a member for about 2 or 3 years shortly after the club was founded. He delivered two papers both involving the Inuit culture.  As you may know, he traveled to the Arctic to paint with AY Jackson, one of the Group of Seven. 

I would like now to introduce Meredith Slack, who is going to sing the National Anthem. 

Dr John Dirks, Chair, Events Organizing Committee

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s so very pleasing to see so many of you gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Frederick Banting and JJR Macleod for the discovery of insulin, announced on Oct 26, 1923, arguably the greatest moment in medical science at the University of Toronto and Canada as a whole. This  remains the only Nobel in Medicine ever received in Canada, but it proved to be one of exceptional importance to treating dying patients with Type 1 diabetes, for the honorees, the University, the City of Toronto and Canada. It led to worldwide fame, rapid commercialization of the insulin product and many major future scientific developments.

You will hear much more from our tribute speakers tonight, but the honor was not well received by Banting. He almost did not accept, and he showed much anger directed at his mentor Macleod, a world expert in sugar metabolism. Generously, Banting shared his prize money with Charles Best and Macleod his with J. Bertram Collip, 

The University held a celebratory dinner on Nov 26, 1923 with 400 in attendance at Hart House where it was said of the 4 co-discoverers: ‘In insulin, there is glory enough for all.’

The Toronto Medical Historical Club has chosen to replicate this dinner as best it could. The idea was spawned in the spring when Professor Norrby of Sweden asked, “are you celebrating this important centenary in Toronto?”  We did not really get this organized until mid-September but our sponsors quickly supported us, our organizing committee was devoted to the enterprise and  Events Management.com  put us on a sure trajectory.

So we will begin with a series of tributes, indeed short stories of what happened then and since that time. We begin with Dr Gillian Hawker, The Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine University of Toronto, the Department where the first insulin treatments took place and which kindly was our lead sponsor for this happy occasion. Please welcome Dr Gillain Hawker. 

Tribute to the Department of Medicine, University of Toronto – Gillian Hawker

Thank you Dr Hawker.

 It’s a privilege to introduce a special guest, Professor Erling Norrby, who has had a most distinguished career as Professor of Virology and Dean of Karolinska Institute School of Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden. Dr Norrby was a member of the selection committee for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 20 years and for 5 years was the Chair. Later, he was involved in the adjudication of the Prizes in Chemistry and Physics. Dr Norrby is the major Nobel historian with 5 published books. The Nobels remain the most well-known prizes in the world and are a hallmark of recognizing excellence and merit in all of its domains.

We are pleased that John Polanyi of this University is with us–he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 for contributions concerning the dynamics of chemical elementary processes–and Arthur Macdonald of Queens University who received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2015 for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which showed that neutrinos have mass.

We also have with us tonight Ambassador of Sweden to Canada Her Excellency Signe Burgstaller and Mrs Karina Bech, Trade Commissioner and Consul General from Denmark.  I ask Drs Polanyi and Macdonald, Ambassador Burgstaller and Commissioner Bech to rise and be welcomed by the audience — so important that you are with us.

I now invite Professor Norrby to address us.

Tribute to the Nobel Prize – Erling Norrby

Thank you Dr Norrby for your presence, experience and great insights. I want to mention another Canadian linkage to the Nobel Prizes: the Gairdner International Awards where on 96 occasions Gairdner prize winners later received the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine  or in Chemistry. I am glad that my successor Janet Rossant is with us tonight and I thank the Gairdner Foundation for its support of tonight’s gathering.

We will now have tributes to the two Nobel Laureates we are honoring this evening. Grant Maltman, Curator, Banting House National Historic Site of Canada in London, Ontario will present Frederick Banting and Dr Ken McHardy of Aberdeen, Scotland will present John James Rickard Macleod. Ken is a retired NHS consultant diabetologist and honorary senior lecturer of the University of Aberdeen. He is a world expert on Macleod and was he major advisor for the statuary unveiled of Macleod in Duthie Park, Aberdeen on October 12 of this year. 

First, I call on Grant Maltman to speak on Nobel Laureate Banting.

Tribute to Sir Frederick Banting – Grant Maltman

Thank you, Grant. 

I now call on Ken McHardy to speak on Nobel Laureate Macleod.

Tribute to John James Rickard Macleod – Kenneth McHardy

Thank you Ken. I had the privilege of being in Aberdeen for the Macleod unveiling. It was truly a marvelous event!

Next we will have a tributes to the two other co-discoverers of Insulin, Charles Best and J. Bertram Collip, who received prize money from Banting and Macleod. The tribute to Best will be made by Professor Patricia Brubaker, recent Best Chair in the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto. The tribute to Collip will be  made by Dr Alison Li, a medical historian who wrote the key book on Collip.

First, I call on Patricia Brubaker. 

Tribute to Charles Best – Patricia Brubaker

Thank you, Pat.

I call on Alison Li.

Tribute to James Bertram Collip – Alison Li

Thank you, Alison.

Our next tributes will be given by Dr Ronald Kahn, Chief Academic Officer at the Joslin Diabetic Center and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr Kahn has been the major scientific leader in insulin signal transduction and has received many eminent honors for his achievements. He will address advances in understanding insulin’s actions over the century and it is noteworthy is that Dr Joslin visited Toronto in November 1922 when he learned of the insulin discovery. Dr James Wright, recent Head of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Calgary and a recipient of the Osler Medal from the American Association for the History of Medicine will present a tribute to the late Michael Bliss who unraveled what really happened in Toronto when insulin was discovered and who did what.

First, Dr Ronald Kahn.

Advances in the understanding of insulin’s actions – Ronald Kahn

Thank you Ron.

I invite Dr James Wright to speak.

Tribute to Michael Bliss – James Wright

Thanks Jim.

A word about the rapid commercialization of insulin: our own Dr Christopher Rutty has reported how the insulin committee was quickly established at the U of T and insulin was rapidly made available for treatment through the work of the Connaught Laboratory, Macleod and Best. A partnership was developed with Eli Lilly in the USA, an arrangement was made with the UK MRC and stimulated by a visit by Nobelist August Krogh in 1922, Nordisk was established  in Denmark, so within a year or so, insulin was available in Canada, USA, UK , Europe and many parts of the world. It’s a BIG story all  on its own –-it happened all so fast –- is still expanding and deserves a Toronto historical event on its own. Connaught morphed  into Sanofi and tonight I thank Sanofi and Lilly for their support of our whole event and Novo Nordisk for support of our excellent symposium this afternoon.

Indeed , I thank all of our sponsors listed on the slide who came so quickly, willingly and enthusiastically to the table saying this insulin Nobel centenary must be celebrated!

This has been a wonderful evening. I am so glad we celebrated the centenary and so glad all of you came–thank you so much. We are grateful to the Faculty Club for all their services, to the musicians who entertained us and the bagpiper who welcomed us.

I am so very grateful to my colleagues on the organizing committee: Peter Kopplin, Alison Li, Chris Rutty, James Wright, Patricia Brubaker, Ron Pearlman, and special thanks to Gary Goldberg who gave so much time to make today’s gatherings such a success. Then I am so grateful to Professor Erling Norrby and Elsebeth to come from the land of Nobel, Stockholm, to help us celebrate and to our brilliant speakers this evening in Gillian Hawker, Grant Maltman, Ken McHardy, Pat Brubaker, Alison Li, Ron Kahn and James Wright. And resounding thanks to our wonderful Event Management Plus group from Kingston who gave us stellar support; thanks to Megan Howes, Meredith Slack who sang “O Canada,” Penny Waddington and Colleen Fifield, all of whom were so great and made sure our dream was realized!!

Banting and Macleod deserved the Nobel Prize. Banting, motivated by his unwavering belief in an idea, generated the initial energy. He came to Macleod with his idea. Macleod, a world expert on carbohydrate metabolism, had been deliberately recruited by a visionary university president who made sure that Macleod’s lab was well-equipped, for its day. Macleod knew that other scientists had attempted to make pancreatic extracts holding the putative, but highly elusive, internal secretion of the pancreas and that Banting’s idea was not original, or even correct.  But Macleod opened his laboratory to Banting, a research novice and mentored him. If Banting had not come to Macleod, insulin would not have been discovered in Toronto as Macleod would not have been looking for it.  Best became, with a coin toss, his able assistant. Macleod brought in Collip, and he produced a more purified insulin that successfully treated Leonard Thompson. Banting became famous as desperately ill patients recovered miraculously, but he never again did anything important in science. Banting’s angry persona made life in Toronto difficult for his mentor, and so Macleod relocated to his alma mater, the University of Aberdeen, where he continued productive research and teaching, but died prematurely.  

Macleod had been airbrushed from history, in both Toronto and Aberdeen, for 60 years until Michael Bliss’s meticulous historical research documented that there were four co-discoverers of insulin, who all played critical roles. Bliss documented for the first time the leading role of Macleod.

So what is missing? Aberdeen has restored  him and our main auditorium was named after Macleod. The Toronto Medical Historical Club has a dream–that somewhere sometime on campus a statuary of the four might be erected for all time .

But it was right to jointly award Banting and Macleod the Nobel Prize as both were necessary and neither was sufficient to discover insulin. Banting and Macleod never shared the podium in Stockholm. In fact, neither made it to Stockholm for the award ceremony. The British Ambassador received the award for both on December 10, 1923.  However, both later appeared in Stockholm. Macleod gave his Nobel lecture on May 26, 1925 and Banting gave his on September 15, 1925. 

What can we learn from this centenary celebration? Will we celebrate other great scientists with such outstanding discoveries? Many think that, in Canada, research seems to be slipping on a world scale; good funding has been inconsistent from governments; in many places effective  leadership may not be there. The lesson of insulin is that discoveries and applications to human wellness and economic benefits will come if you build all parts the research foundation properly–select the best minds at a world level, support them well for decades as necessary. Then we will have more celebrations of discovery like tonight. The opposite is what Mary Lasker of New York said before congress 80 years ago, “If you don’t like research, try disease.” That is the bottom line. 

Let’s end happily with three cheers for Macleod and Banting with their Nobel and for Best and Collip as co-discoverers.

Good night to all!          

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