Know the scientist: Charles Herbert Best

Charles Herbert Best. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.  

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Charles Herbert Best (1899 – 1978) was an American-Canadian scientist, who co-discovered insulin, a critical milestone in the treatment of diabetes. Charles Best also discovered the vitamin choline and the enzyme histaminase. He was among the first to introduce anticoagulants in the treatment of blood clots.

Best was born in Maine, the U.S., in 1899. He grew up in Pembroke before joining the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, to study medicine in 1915, but his studies were interrupted by the onset of the First World War. He served as an infantry soldier and later as an acting Sergeant Major in the Canadian Army. He returned to Toronto in 1921 to continue his studies. He was a professional basketball player and used his remuneration from sports to pay his academic fees.

While still an undergraduate, Best became an assistant to Frederick Banting, who was experimenting on pancreatic secretions. By then, it had been established that diabetes involved problems with the pancreas. J.J.R. Macleod, professor of physiology at the University of Toronto, was overseeing the work of Banting and Best. The biochemist James Collip was added to the team later. In 1921, the team succeeded in obtaining the pancreatic extract of insulin in a form that controlled diabetes in dogs, thus paving the way for its trial and usage in human patients. In 1922, the team successfully injected Leonard Thompson, a 14- year-old boy with insulin. He was critical due to diabetes and the injection helped save his life. Banting, Best and Collip shared the patent for insulin, which they sold to the University of Toronto for $1 each.

In 1923, the Nobel Prize Committee honoured Banting and Macleod with the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of insulin, ignoring Best and Collip. But Banting shared half his prize money with Best, while Macleod did so with Collip. Best continued as research associate in the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research, which was created at the university in 1923.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 6:13:14 PM |

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