Media Releases

U of T’s discovery of Insulin collections inscribed in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register

June 19, 2013

TORONTO, ON – In recog­ni­tion of their glob­al sig­nif­i­cance, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Libraries’ Dis­cov­ery of Insulin col­lec­tions were inscribed today into UNESCO’s Mem­o­ry of the World Reg­is­ter. The announce­ment was made joint­ly by the insti­tu­tion and the Cana­di­an Com­mis­sion for UNESCO which imple­ments the pro­gram in Cana­da.

The col­lec­tion includes orig­i­nal hand­writ­ten notes by the sci­en­tif­ic team of Fred­er­ick Grant Bant­i­ng, Charles Her­bert Best, James Bertram Col­lip and John James Rickard Macleod con­cern­ing ear­ly exper­i­ments and the suc­cess­ful use of insulin at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

“Inscrip­tion in the Mem­o­ry of the World Reg­is­ter rec­og­nizes the glob­al sig­nif­i­cance of these doc­u­ments which will be pre­served in per­pe­tu­ity by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Libraries,” said Anne Don­dert­man, Asso­ciate Librar­i­an for Spe­cial Col­lec­tions at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Libraries. “While pre­serv­ing the orig­i­nals, our inno­v­a­tive work in the area of dig­i­ti­za­tion ensures that col­lec­tions such as these are made acces­si­ble to both the local and inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ties.”

Cre­at­ed in 1997, the Mem­o­ry of the World Reg­is­ter pro­tects and pro­motes the world’s doc­u­men­tary her­itage. To be includ­ed, col­lec­tions must have glob­al sig­nif­i­cance and out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal val­ue. The Dis­cov­ery of Insulin col­lec­tions doc­u­ment the world’s first med­ical dis­cov­ery of major sig­nif­i­cance relat­ed to dia­betes — one of the most sig­nif­i­cant med­ical dis­cov­er­ies of the 20th cen­tu­ry.

This life-chang­ing dis­cov­ery made an incred­i­ble impact on the dia­bet­ics of the world. Pri­or to the dis­cov­ery of insulin, severe dia­bet­ics were treat­ed pri­mar­i­ly by means of a strict diet which inevitably led to star­va­tion if not death from the dis­ease. Chil­dren, in par­tic­u­lar, suf­fered ter­ri­bly. For exam­ple, when five-year-old Ted­dy Ryder arrived in Toron­to for treat­ment, he weighed only 27 pounds. The fol­low­ing year he wrote to Dr. Bant­i­ng from his home in Con­necti­cut, inform­ing him that, “I am a fat boy now and I feel fine.” He lived for over 70 years on insulin. In pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence, accounts in the pop­u­lar press, and even in sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals, the mirac­u­lous return to life and health of these patients once they received insulin was likened to a mir­a­cle.

Cana­di­an sub­mis­sions to the Inter­na­tion­al Reg­is­ter are reviewed by a group of expert mem­bers of the Cana­di­an Com­mis­sion for UNESCO’s Ad Hoc Com­mit­tee for Mem­o­ry of the World. Once approved, the sub­mis­sions are sent to the Inter­na­tion­al Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee in Paris which decides on their inclu­sion in the Reg­is­ter.

“This recog­ni­tion by UNESCO illus­trates how archival evi­dence is essen­tial to reli­able his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge,” said Dr. Mar­cel Caya, Chair of the Cana­di­an Ad Hoc Com­mit­tee. “Beyond the cel­e­bra­tion of the dis­cov­ery of insulin by the team of Bant­i­ng and Best, this inscrip­tion to the Mem­o­ry of the World Reg­is­ter draws atten­tion to the con­text of their sci­en­tif­ic work and its impact on the lives of so many peo­ple world­wide. The Mem­o­ry of the World pro­gram is found­ed on the fact that well pre­served and acces­si­ble archives are an asset to soci­ety.”

The Dis­cov­ery of Insulin col­lec­tions, Canada’s fourth addi­tion to the Reg­is­ter, include the research which won Dr. Bant­i­ng and Dr. Macleod the Nobel Prize for Med­i­cine in 1923, as well as ear­ly patient let­ters and charts, pho­tographs, awards, lab­o­ra­to­ry note­books, reports, cor­re­spon­dence between doc­tors, researchers, the Eli Lil­ly com­pa­ny and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, and oth­er records main­ly from the 1920s. Togeth­er, they pro­vide a full pic­ture of the events and peo­ple involved in the dis­cov­ery and devel­op­ment of insulin at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

Over 7,000 pages of this doc­u­men­ta­tion have been made pub­licly avail­able by the Thomas Fish­er Rare Book Library through its Dis­cov­ery and Ear­ly Devel­op­ment of Insulin dig­i­tal col­lec­tion, and the mate­r­i­al can be viewed in per­son by the pub­lic at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Archives and the Thomas Fish­er Rare Book Library.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Libraries sys­tem is the largest aca­d­e­m­ic library in Cana­da and is ranked third among peer insti­tu­tions in North Amer­i­ca, behind just Har­vard and Yale. The sys­tem con­sists of 44 libraries locat­ed on three uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus­es. In addi­tion to more than 12 mil­lion print vol­umes in 341 lan­guages, the library sys­tem cur­rent­ly pro­vides access to more than 238,000 ser­i­al titles, 1,500,000 elec­tron­ic resources in var­i­ous forms and over 28,000 lin­ear metres of archival mate­r­i­al.

The role of the Cana­di­an Com­mis­sion for UNESCO is to involve gov­ern­ment depart­ments and agen­cies, insti­tu­tions, orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als work­ing for the advance­ment of UNESCO’s man­dat­ed fields of edu­ca­tion, sci­ence, cul­ture, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and infor­ma­tion, in its activ­i­ties.



For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Anne Don­dert­man | Asso­ciate Librar­i­an, Spe­cial Col­lec­tions & Direc­tor, Thomas Fish­er Rare Book Library | Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Libraries | | 416–978-5332

Pauline Dugré | Pro­gramme Offi­cer, Com­mu­ni­ca­tion & Infor­ma­tion | Cana­di­an Com­mis­sion for UNESCO | | 1–800-263‑5588, ext. 4558