Charles H. Best Biography

Medical Professional, Scientist, Academic, Physiologist (1899–1978)
Charles H. Best was a physiologist and medical researcher who co-discovered the use of insulin as a treatment for diabetes.


Physiologist Charles H. Best was born in West Pembroke, Maine, on February 27, 1899, and attended the University of Toronto in Canada. He became a research assistant to Dr. Frederick Banting, and together they discovered the technique of using insulin to treat diabetes. Banting received the Nobel Prize in 1923 and shared the prize money with his assistant. Best died in Toronto on March 31, 1978.

Early Life

Charles Herbert Best was born on February 27, 1899, in West Pembroke, Maine, to Canadian citizens Luella Fisher and Dr. Herbert Huestes Best. In 1915, he moved to Toronto, Canada, to study at the University of Toronto.

Best enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1918 and served with the 2nd Canadian Tank Battalion during World War I. He returned to Toronto to resume his studies in 1919.

Discovery of Insulin

After receiving his bachelor's degrees in physiology and biochemistry in 1921, Best was tapped to be a summer research assistant at the university by Professor John J. R. Macleod. With Dr. Frederick G. Banting needing help to perform his experiments on the effects of pancreatic secretions on diabetes, Best became Banting's assistant.

Banting conducted the surgical procedures to isolate the pancreatic secretions in dogs and Best handled the chemical tests to measure blood and sugar levels. Banting then injected the resulting extract into dogs that had their pancreases removed. The dogs lived as long as they received the injections. Banting and Best wrote up their findings and showed them to Macleod, who found several flaws in their process, but was intrigued with the results. Macleod provided vital guidance for preparing the extract, a better lab and more dogs. New research began under his direction.

Banting and Best switched their host animal from dogs to fetal calves, which produced more of the desired secretions in a faster period of time. By January 1922, they had begun clinical trials on humans. Up until this time, children suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis were confined to hospital wards awaiting inevitable death. The first trial was halted after the patient suffered an allergic reaction, but adjustments soon produced wondrous results, with comatose patients being revived. The pancreatic hormone that would become known as insulin proved highly effective in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Nobel Prize Controversy

Dr. Macleod helped Banting and Best publish the paper "The Internal Secretions of the Pancreas" in the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine in February 1922. In 1923, Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of insulin, with Best left out because he had not yet received his medical degree. Incensed by the perceived slight, Banting shared his half of the prize money with Best.

Later Career and Death

After earning his medical degree and doctorate, Best succeeded Macleod as professor of physiology at the University of Toronto in 1929. He then took over for Banting as director of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research in 1941.

Best was forced to retire in 1965 due to a depressive illness. Shortly after the death of one of his sons, he passed away on March 31, 1978, in Toronto.

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