Polish scientists were among the first in the world to develop a life-saving drug

Polish scientists were among the first in the world to develop a life-saving drug

Funk used his own money to buy modern laboratory equipment, went to slaughterhouses near Warsaw and bought pancreases from which insulin was produced. Spasowicz developed his own method of extending the duration of insulin action. Thanks to the involvement of Polish scientists, we were not only one of the first countries to produce a drug that saves the lives of people with diabetes, but also one of its largest exporters.

Diabetes – before the era of insulin therapy – was an incurable and fatal disease. In the early 1920s, the percentage of patients with diabetes in industrialized countries ranged from 0.5 to 2 percent of the population. Little was known about this disease, its etiology or how to treat it. The therapy consisted mainly of a draconian diet, which led to extreme exhaustion of the body. Finding a cure for a disease that ravages the body and causes such serious consequences as diabetic retinopathy or nephropathy has been one of the greatest challenges for scientists around the world.

Nobel Prize discovery

A breakthrough in the history of medicine occurred in November 1921. Dr. Frederick Banting (1891-1941), a surgeon, and medical student Charles Best (1899-1978), who worked in the laboratory headed by James Richard Macleod (1876-1935) at the University of Toronto in Canada, discovered insulin. In early 1922, the drug was first administered to 14-year-old Leonard Thomson, a diabetic. Insulin saved the life of a boy in a coma caused by diabetic ketosis. This event caused a great stir in the medical world. American doctors were initially skeptical about the invention, but changed their minds when the innovative therapy helped 14-year-old Elizabeth Hughes, the daughter of the US Secretary of State, suffering from type 1 diabetes. The Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to appreciate the extraordinary discovery and a year later they awarded the Nobel Prize to Banting and Macleod. those. However, the committee ignored the contribution of young Best, but Dr. Frederick Banting, in recognition of the assistant’s merits, shared the prize money with him.

The American pharmaceutical industry quickly became interested in the new drug that patients were waiting for, and in 1923 the first insulins appeared on the market. Soon the drug was also produced in Europe: in Denmark, England and the Netherlands. In January 1924, Poland joined these countries.

We will produce insulin in Poland

The National Institute of Hygiene (PZH), which was established in 1918 (as the Central Epidemiological Institute), was responsible for, among others, shape public health, prevent chronic diseases. Ludwik Rajchman (1881-1965), bacteriologist and social activist, first director of the National Institute of Hygiene, offered the position of head of the Department of Biochemistry to the world-famous Polish biochemist, discoverer of vitamin B1 and creator of the term “vitamin”, Kazimierz Funk (1884-1967). The Rockefeller Foundation agreed to cover the salary and the scientist signed a four-year contract in 1923.

Funk conducted research on B vitamins and dealt with the biochemistry of proteins, hormones, and digestive enzymes. He realized that the demand for insulin was high and importing it from abroad was expensive, so he decided to produce this medicine. In 1924, based on the published works of Dr. Banting and Best, regarding the method of obtaining insulin, production began. The drug was administered to patients in one of the clinics of a hospital in Warsaw. Unfortunately, the first insulins were not well purified and were quickly deactivated. Kazimierz Funk conducted research to improve its quality. His involvement in the production of insulin was so great that he not only bought modern laboratory equipment with his own money, but also went to slaughterhouses near Warsaw and bought pork and beef pancreases. The results of their research, including: regarding the impact of insulin on phosphate metabolism, he published in international scientific journals. He was one of the first scientists to be interested in the oral use of insulin.

In 1924, the National Institute of Hygiene produced 315,000 IU of insulin, two years later almost 1 million units of insulin were produced, and in 1929 as much as 1,390,000 IU

Tomasz Spasowicz: insulin production on a global scale

In 1926, Kazimierz Funk, disappointed that he had been passed over for the position of head of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Warsaw and that he was running out of contacts, decided to leave Poland. Ludwik Rajchman needed his successor at the National Institute of Hygiene to continue producing insulin. He chose a well-educated chemist, Tomasz Spasowicz (1890-1970) from the Lublin branch of the National Institute of Hygiene, who conducted research on the production of insulin on a laboratory scale. Spasowicz, thanks to a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation, completed foreign training in the fall of 1927 at the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto and in university laboratories in Washington, Boston and London. There he had the opportunity to learn about methods of obtaining insulin and its pharmacological control. A year later, he returned to Poland and started working in the Serum and Vaccine Department at the National Institute of Hygiene in Warsaw. In the Department of Organopreparations he established, he started a modified method of producing insulin from bovine pancreases. It turned out that the insulin preparations he received were of such good quality that they did not lose their activity during storage.

However, insulin treatment was not that easy: improving the purity of the preparations shortened their duration of action, and patients had to inject themselves even 2-3 times a day. To extend the duration of action, the discovery of the Danish doctor Hans Christian Hagedorn (1888-1971) was used, who added protamine, i.e. protein obtained from salmon or trout semen, to insulin. Results from other studies showed that a longer duration of insulin action could be achieved by adding small amounts of zinc. In this way, in 1935, zinc-protamine insulin with a prolonged action was obtained.

Tomasz Spasowicz developed his method of producing such insulin, using protamine from the so-called milks of salmonids, trouts and trouts. In 1938, he launched the production of insulin with a prolonged hypoglycemic effect. Soon, Poland became the fourth country in Europe, after Great Britain, Denmark and Germany, to produce insulin. Production was constantly increasing: in 1934, 8,846,800 IU was produced, and in 1938 – 25,220,250 IU. From 1935, surplus insulin was exported, first to Czechoslovakia, and then to Estonia and Yugoslavia. In 1938, over 30 percent Polish insulin was sold abroad.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 did not stop insulin production in Warsaw. Nazi Germany really needed this drug, so PZH was producing it until the end of the war. According to prof. Józef W. Grott (1894-1973), a specialist in diabetes, Spasowicz went down in the history of medicine as a recognized scientist who not only “gave the country the first long-acting insulin preparation in the form of zinc-protamine insulin”, but also took care of “a sufficient supply of insulin for the period of war and immediately for the immediate post-war period.” Tomasz Spasowicz worked on the production of insulin until 1966.

Similar Posts