Dr. James Collip

Dr. James Collip. Photograph courtesy University of Toronto Archives

Medical Pathfinder November 20 , 1892 – June 19, 1965

The rapid development of different COVID-19 vaccines brings to mind the path – finders of early medical innovation.

Dr. James Collip, a brilliant scientist and doctor who hailed from Belleville, was one of those pathfinders.

Although Dr. Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best are credited with the discovery of insulin in 1921, it was research by Professor John J. R. Macleod and Dr. James Collip a year later who refined and purified insulin, actually putting it in a form that could be injected into patients who suffered from diabetes.

In January of 1922, the first injection of Collip’s refined insulin was given to a 14-year-old boy who lay dying in bed. The boy had an immediate allergic reaction to the shot. Dr. Collip went back to his laboratory and worked frantically for the next 12 days to further improve the purity of the second dose which saved the boy’s life.

Later that year, in one of medicine’s more dramatic moments, Doctors Banting, Best and Collip visited a children’s hospital ward where young comatose diabetes patients lay awaiting certain death. The doctors went from bed to bed injecting each child with insulin. Before they reached their last patient, the first few children were awakening from their comas to the absolute joy of their parents.

In 1923, John J.R. Macleod shared his portion of the Nobel Prize money with James Collip and Frederick Banting shared his portion with Charles Best.

Dr. Collip went on to became internationally known for his leadership in endocrinology. From 1941 to 1945, James Collip headed Canada’s wartime medical research. He finished his career as Dean of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario.

Over the decades to come, insulin saved millions of lives in the same way the vaccines that immunize us against COVID- 19 will save millions of lives in the future.


[Summer 2021 departments]