Celebration of legacy of insulin discovery 100 years on from Nobel prize win

25 September 2023
Professor JJR Macleod
The centenary of the Nobel Prize awarded to co-discoverer of insulin, Professor JJR Macleod, will be celebrated at the university where he studied and returned as a teacher and researcher.

The University of Aberdeen will dedicate the 2023 Carnegie Lecture to celebrating the impact of the former medical student on the treatment of diabetes and a blue plaque will be erected to commemorate his legacy.

Celebrating 100 Years of the 'Discovery of Insulin' Nobel Prize, a free public event to be held on 11 October, will explore the legacy of Macleod’s remarkable achievement with world-recognised diabetes expert Professor C. Ronald Kahn.

 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Want history news direct to your inbox? Join the History Scotland newsletter today!  🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

John James Rickard Macleod was born near Dunkeld in 1876 but moved to Aberdeen at the age of seven and was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and the University of Aberdeen.

In 1923 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, alongside Canadian Frederick Banting, for the discovery of insulin.

But his name became mired in accusations that he had stolen ideas and claimed credit where it was not deserved.

Macleod, who spent his later years back in the University of Aberdeen as Regius Professor of Physiology, saw his reputation tarnished.

Dispelling the myths

While Macleod’s name was distanced from the breakthrough during his lifetime, the work of a Canadian historian in retelling the story of insulin sixty years later dispelled many of the myths contained within most popular accounts, which attribute the discovery to two Canadian researchers, Frederick Banting and Charles Best.

His investigations detailed a far more complex, if no less acrimonious, story, revealing that the discovery was indeed a team effort for which Macleod rightfully earned his credit.

Content continues after advertisements

As part of efforts to restore Macleod’s name in the city he called home for much of his life, a blue plaque will be placed in the King’s Quadrant thanks to The Physiological Society, and his legacy will be discussed at a free public lecture by Professor Kahn, a preeminent investigator in insulin signal transduction and mechanisms of altered signalling in diabetes and metabolic disease.

Professor Khan has received more than 70 awards and honours, including the Wolf Prize in Medicine, Kober Medal of the AAP and the highest honours of the American Diabetes Association, U.S. and British Endocrine Societies, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, European Association for the Study of Diabetes and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.

Centenary celebration

Professor Kahn will lead the free lecture in King’s College Conference Centre, Old Aberdeen, and consider the challenges faced by today’s researchers as they seek to further improve the lives of those with diabetes.

Professor Mirela Delibegovic, who leads a research team at the University of Aberdeen examining causes of insulin resistance, how it can lead to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, said: “We are delighted to be able to welcome world-leading expert Professor C. Ronald Kahn to Aberdeen in the week that we celebrate the centenary of JJR Macleod’s Nobel prize.

“The Carnegie Lecture and plaque unveiling will provide an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of Macleod and the legacy that his discovery still has today, while also considering today’s approach to diabetes prevention and treatment.

“We look forward to welcoming members of the public to share in the story of the discovery of insulin, how it has saved countless lives over the last 100 years and to showcase some of the best modern research into diabetes.”

Professor David Attwell, President of The Physiological Society, said: “We are delighted to be unveiling a blue plaque dedicated to the remarkable physiologist JJR Macleod, who has contributed so much to physiology. The Physiological Society’s Blue Plaque scheme raises the visibility of physiology by giving people an insight into the positive role that ‘the science of life’ plays in their everyday lives.”

Tickets for the lecture, which runs from 6-7pm on October 11, are free of charge but places should be reserved in advance here.

(Report and image courtesy University of Aberdeen)

Content continues after advertisement