BREAKTHROUGH by Thea Cooper

BREAKTHROUGH

Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The story of the conquest of diabetes.

In roughly chronological order, Cooper and Ainsberg weave together the stories of the doctor who ran the first clinic for patients with diabetes, the scientists who first isolated insulin, a young woman among the first to receive the new drug and the research director of the pharmaceutical company that launched its production. The authors focus in turn on Dr. Frederick Allen, whose starvation diet could prolong patients’ lives but not save them; Frederick Banting, the insightful and persistent scientist whose work with the pancreases of dogs isolated insulin; Elizabeth Hughes, daughter of politician Charles Evans Hughes, whose influence enabled her to become one of the first diabetics to be saved by insulin; and George Clowes of Eli Lilly, who immediately saw insulin’s potential and figured out how to produce it commercially. Where research did not provide the necessary dialogue or even the dramatic incidents the authors needed, they have invented their own to enhance the narrative. The result is a work that sometimes reads like a novel, with the characters brought to life through their thoughts, remarks and physical gestures. The irascible Banting, whose hardships, jealousies and struggles with his colleagues seem endless, is perhaps the most fascinating. Young Elizabeth, seen primarily through excerpts from her letters, is a less-realized character than her parents. The authors seem especially intrigued by Elizabeth, however, puzzling over her later refusal to admit to having diabetes and her failure to include diabetes research in her philanthropic efforts. Caroline Cox’s The Fight To Survive: A Young Girl’s Struggle with Diabetes and the Discovery of Insulin (2009) offers a fuller profile of her but a briefer account of the insulin story.

A readable tale of medical achievement.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-64870-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2010