The Discovery of Insulin

Almost 400 million people depend on insulin to control diabetes

Almost 400 million people depend on insulin to control diabetes

On July 27, 1921, Canadian scientist Frederick Banting became the first person to isolate the hormone insulin for the control of diabetes.  He was only 32 years old when he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine two years later, making him the youngest laureate in that field.

Insulin regulates sugar in the bloodstream.  The hormone was first identified in 1869, in little islands of cell clusters produced by the pancreas.  (“Insulin” comes from the Latin for “little islands.”)  A link was soon established between the pancreas and diabetes – if the pancreas was removed, the subject would develop diabetes – but no one could figure out exactly why.  Scientists believed the pancreas was secreting something that regulates sugar glucose.  But every time they tried to remove the little islands, the cell clusters would die.

Banting realized that the pancreas was also producing digestive juices that were killing the little islands.  By tying off various parts of the organ, he was able to isolate and preserve the part of the pancreas that contained what he called “isletin” (later renamed “insulin”).

There is an interesting side story.  Banting’s two lab assistants, Charles Best and Clark Noble, flipped a coin to see who would take the first shift.  Best won the toss and ended up assisting throughout the summer.  As a result, Banting shared credit for his insulin discovery with the young assistant… as well as half of his Nobel Prize money.  This had to be one of the luckiest coin tosses in history.

Today, almost 400 million people worldwide – more than 8 percent of the adult population – suffer from diabetes and depend on insulin.  Agilent offers several solutions for ensuring the quality of extracted insulin, including Aqueous Size-Exclusion Chromatography.  An Agilent High-Performance Liquid Chromatograph can identify insulin impurities in six minutes.


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The Curious Case of Dr. James Barry

Learn the amazing secret of this forgotten British surgeon

Learn the amazing secret of this forgotten British surgeon

Today I highlight the remarkable life and career of James Barry, who died on July 25, 1865.

Barry graduated from the University of Edinburgh Medical School and the Royal College of Surgeons of England before becoming a military surgeon in the British Army.  He served in India and South Africa, where he successfully performed the first African caesarian section in which both mother and child survived.  During the Crimean War, he achieved the highest recovery rate for sick and wounded soldiers.  Promoted to the level of Inspector General of Hospitals in Canada, he argued for better food, sanitation and medical care for soldiers, prisoners and lepers.

The remarkable part of this story is that after his death, James Barry was discovered to have been a woman.  By the time this information was revealed, Barry had already been buried with full military honors.  The British Army, embarrassed, ordered all records sealed for 100 years.

It is now believed that Margaret Bulkley left a destitute childhood and chose to live as a man so that she could pursue a university degree and a surgical career.  Her successful subterfuge makes her the first female surgeon in the Western World.  How she maintained her masquerade over a 50-plus year career is anybody’s guess, but as biographer Charles Roland notes, “Barry’s personal life must have been difficult in any case.”

Robert Leitch adds, “She chose to be a military doctor. Not to fight for the right of a woman to become one – but simply to be one. The quickest course then was to become a man in the eyes of the world.”

James Barry (circa 1813-1816)

James Barry (circa 1813-1816)

Even today, women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics continue to face challenges.  The U.S. Department of Labor says, “Employment of women has lagged in most of the high-tech occupations that show promise for future growth.”  The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, says, “Women in STEM occupations not only have low density rates, they also struggle with rates of unemployment that are higher than their male counterparts.”

Agilent is proud to include global diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination policies among its worldwide business practices.  “I would define ‘diversity’ in the broadest terms,” says Agilent President and CEO Bill Sullivan.  “It’s not just race and gender; it’s the diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds.

“We are more diverse today than ever.  And I can’t be more proud of the culture we have created at Agilent, one that allows and encourages all employees to be able to make a contribution.”


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Agilent Reinvents Optical Spectroscopy

Agilent’s new 5100 ICP-OES runs 55% faster using 50% less gas

Agilent’s new 5100 ICP-OES runs 55% faster using 50% less gas

There are several ways to analyze the structure of a substance.  Optical spectroscopy measures the interaction of light with various materials.  By analyzing the amount of light absorbed or emitted by a sample, we can determine what it’s made of and how much there is.

(Spectroscopy comes from the Latin for “ghost watcher.”  In the 1600s, researchers who first observed light dispersing through a prism thought they were looking at ghosts.)

With inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES), a sample is vaporized and sprayed into a very hot plasma.  The sample absorbs energy from the plasma and emits light.  Different kinds of vaporized atoms will emit different patterns of light, which are then measured with a polychromator.  The sample itself is destroyed when it is vaporized, so the more we can learn from a single analysis, the better.

The sample can be analyzed using a radial or an axial view.  A radial view looks at the elongated plasma from the side (along its radius).  An axial view looks at the plasma from the end (along its axis).  Radial is considered more robust, while axial is considered more sensitive.

Agilent has just introduced a breakthrough new product, the Agilent 5100 ICP-OES.  Among its many innovations, this ingenious instrument can run both axial and radial view analysis at the same time.  As a result, analyses can be run 55 percent faster using 50 percent less gas per sample than competitive systems.  “No other system on the market can match the performance – or the low cost of ownership – of the new 5100,” says Agilent’s Phil Binns.  “Agilent has raised the bar with a system that sidesteps the usual compromises in speed and robustness associated with dual-view analysis.”

The Agilent 5100 ICP-OES can run both axial  (blue) and radial (red) view analysis at the same time

The Agilent 5100 ICP-OES can run both axial (blue) and radial (red) view analysis at the same time

The 5100 ICP-OES is ideal for labs doing food, environmental and pharmaceuticals testing, as well as for mining and industrial applications.  On July 29, Agilent will host a series of worldwide Webinars to demonstrate the new technology and its performance on environmental and food sample types.


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