March 12, 2021

Defining Moments in Canadian History – 100 Years of Insulin

By JDRF

JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. Our mission is to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications. To accomplish this, JDRF has invested more than $3 billion CAD in research funding since our inception. We are an organization built on a grassroots model of people connecting in their local communities, collaborating regionally for efficiency and broader fundraising impact, and uniting on a national stage to pool resources, passion, and energy. We collaborate with academic institutions, governments, and corporate and industry partners to develop and deliver a pipeline of innovative therapies to people living with T1D. Our staff and volunteers throughout Canada and six international affiliates are dedicated to advocacy, community engagement and our vision of a world without T1D.  For more information, please visit jdrf.ca.

Dave Prowten joined JDRF Canada as President & CEO in 2013. For the past 20 years, Dave has worked in the not-for-profit sector – with the last 15 years at charities focused on auto-immune diseases. He is a big believer in the power of the Canadian research sector to make globally significant advances.

JDRF is working in collaboration with Defining Moments Canada for the second year of the Insulin100: Inspiration and Innovation commemorative project. JDRF will be sharing their history and mission, articles about their past and present research, as well as personal advocate stories – which will highlight the Kids for a Cure Program and the #AccessForAll initiative.

Step back in time 100 years. If you were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it was literally a death sentence. And then, one of the greatest discoveries in diabetes research happened right here in Canada.

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin by Toronto researchers Dr. Frederick Banting and Charles Best. Life was short following the onset of diabetes – typically two years for adults and a year for children, ending in blindness, loss of limbs, kidney failure, heart att ack or stroke. Before insulin treatment, a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes (T1D) meant inevitable death for children and adults.

T1D is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin critical to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. It is not preventable, and the cause is unknown.

JDRF, the leading charitable funder of type 1 diabetes research, wants to ensure that the next major breakthrough happens here again.

T1D affects every aspect of life. It comes with health implications, an economic burden to families with expensive treatment costs and the psychosocial effects of living with a chronic illness that impacts every decision a person makes throughout their day. Often, people are diagnosed in early childhood. This means children must learn to inject insulin, measure blood sugar and think about snacks, activity and play – every day – until there is a cure.

While we honour this milestone discovery, and the subsequent improvements in technology, one hundred years after its discovery insulin remains the only treatment for someone living with T1D.

JDRF believes that the time is now to move beyond insulin. Research towards a cure is accelerating at incredible speed. While a lifesaving and life changing treatment, it is recognized that there is a need to find new disease modifying treatments and ultimately cures. JDRF is proud to be at the forefront of this movement and it is our belief that among our researchers are the next Banting and Best. 

About JDRF

Founded by families in Montreal, we continue their legacy by actively looking for innovative ways to bridge the gap between the T1D and scientific communities, to investigate the root causes of this disease, and ultimately to cure and prevent it.

In 1974, a group of parents of children living with T1D came together with the goal of finding a cure to this disease, and from this JDRF was born. It is a simple and powerful story of how parents’ love for their children drove relentless efforts to find a cure for T1D.

Their legacy is honoured today by JDRF’s continued commitment to improving lives and finding cures for T1D.

“At diagnosis, I was a mom with a young child, which meant I was very familiar with the constant tug of a toddler needing your attention. Looking back, having T1D was similar to that experience in that it is always there, always interrupting, always needing you to do something, check something, eat something, but there’s no adorable face, melt-your-heart smile or warm fuzzy hug attached. Now it’s about reconciling the fact that it took my fragile, innocent, brave, resilient child being attacked by this monster to inspire and finally motivate me to take better care of myself for her sake, if for nothing else.

There are days when I feel hopeful, positive and powerful. But there are months where I feel scared of going blind, losing a limb…or not waking up at all.”

~Kristen Garland, diagnosed at age 26 and the mother of a child living with T1D.

This is the reality for everyone touched by T1D, and why JDRF is working on an aggressive campaign to accelerate research into a cure.

How JDRF is moving beyond insulin and accelerating towards cures

$100M Campaign to Accelerate

JDRF has been working tirelessly on a bold and innovative plan that transforms our approach to T1D research, redesigning it for speed and maximizing our impact. It is a plan that aims to defeat the T1D monster, once and for all.

Our six-pillar plan of attack includes high impact global research focused on screening, prevention, better treatments and cures; improving access to lifesaving T1D technology and increasing capacity and mental health supports for those living with T1D. Learn more at jdrf.ca/accelerate.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, we look ahead to funding the most promising research that will move from lab to bedside quicker.

“In the past 50 years since I was diagnosed, the world for those living with T1D has changed enormously.  I want to acknowledge my parents, Helaine and Allan Shiff, who were determined to find a CURE for T1D when I was diagnosed. My mother worked tirelessly as one of the founding volunteer members of JDRF Canada until her passing just recently.

The world would not be as it is today without JDRF. 

When I was diagnosed there was one type of insulin called ‘regular’, which you took once a day by injection with a syringe and needle, and had to be sterilized each time after use. I could only estimate my blood sugar levels, as there was not yet blood glucose testing. I now use an insulin pump with rapid acting insulin. JDRF has and continues to change the way we are improving the lives of all those living with T1D.

But – living with T1D is very difficult. And unless you live with T1D you do not understand how very difficult life truly is. It is a 24-hour-a-day 365-days-a-year burden. The psychological impact of this disease cannot be underestimated for both me and my family. So, that is why I have dedicated a good portion of my life to helping JDRF move our mission forward.

JDRF leads the world in T1D research and we need to accelerate the pace of our research to get to closer to our goal of a world without diabetes.

I truly believe that this is an achievable goal. For me, a world without diabetes would mean a number of things. But top among them would be never again having to worry that my children will have to live with T1D. That would mean everything.”

~ Lorne Shiff, Past JDRF Board Chair, diagnosed with T1D over 50 years ago.

Canada by the numbers:

  • 300,000 Canadians live with T1D
  • 80% of those living with T1D in Canada are adults
  • The rate of incidence of T1D in Canada is rising by ~5% each year, higher than the global average of ~3% – and we do not know why