Romanian Nicolae Paulescu, inventor of insulin, discovery of insulin, pancreatic extract
Nicolae Paulescu (October 30, 1869 – July 17, 1931) was a Romanian physiologist, professor of medicine and the discoverer of insulin.
Early life and activities
In the autumn of 1888, Paulescu left for Paris, where he enrolled in medical school. In 1897 he graduated with a Doctor of Medicine degree, and was immediately appointed as assistant surgeon at the Notre-Dame du Perpétuel-Secours Hospital. In 1900, Paulescu returned to Romania, where he remained until his death (1931) as Head of the Physiology Department of the University of Bucharest Medical School, as well as a Professor of Clinical Medicine at the St. Vincent de Paul Hospital in Bucharest.Paulescu’s discovery of insulinIn 1916, he succeeded in developing an aqueous pancreatic extract which, when injected into a diabetic dog, proved to have a normalizing effect on blood sugar levels. After a gap during World War I, he resumed his research and succeeded in isolating the antidiabetic pancreatic hormone (pancreine).
From April 24 to June 23, 1921, Paulescu published four papers at the Romanian Section of the Society of Biology in Paris:
• The effect of the pancreatic extract injected into a diabetic animal by way of the blood.
• The influence of the time elapsed from the intravenous pancreatic injection into a diabetic animal.
• The effect of the pancreatic extract injected into a normal animal by way of the blood.
An extensive paper on this subject – Research on the Role of the Pancreas in Food Assimilation – was submitted by Paulescu on June 22 to the Archives Internationales de Physiologie in Liège, Belgium, and was published in the August 1921 issue of this journal.
Furthermore, Paulescu secured the patent rights for his method of manufacturing pancreine (his own term for insulin) on April 10, 1922 (patent no. 6254) from the Romanian Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Nobel Prize controversy
Eight months after Paulescu’s works were published, doctor Frederick Grant Banting and biochemist John James Richard Macleod from the University of Toronto, Canada, published their paper on the successful use of a pancreatic extract for normalizing blood sugar (glucose) levels (glycemia) in diabetic dogs. Their paper is a mere confirmatory paper, with direct references to Paulescu’s article. However, they misquote that article, enunciating that:
“He [Paulescu] states that injections into peripheral veins produce no effect and his experiments show that second injections do not produce such marked effect as the first”,
which is exactly the opposite of what Paulescu found out. Later on, Banting said that
“I regret very much that there was an error in our translation of Professor Paulescu’s article, I cannot recollect, after this length of time, exactly what happened (…) I do not remember whether we relied on our own poor French or whether we had a translation made. In any case I would like to state how sorry I am for this unfortunate error (…)”
Surprisingly, Banting and Macleod received the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of insulin, while Paulescu’s pioneering work was being completely ignored by the scientific and medical community. International recognition for Paulescu’s merits as the true discoverer of insulin came only 50 years later.
Professor Ian Murray, an internationally regarded physiologist, was particularly active in working to correct the historical wrong against Paulescu. Murray was a professor of physiology at the Anderson College of Medicine in Glasgow, Scotland, the head of the department of Metabolic Diseases at a leading Glasgow hospital, vice-president of the British Association of Diabetes, and a founding member of the International Diabetes Federation. In an article for a 1971 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Murray wrote:
“Insufficient recognition has been given to Paulesco, the distinguished Roumanian scientist, who at the time when the Toronto team were commencing their research had already succeeded in extracting the antidiabetic hormone of the pancreas and proving its efficacy in reducing the hyperglycaemia in diabetic dogs.”
Furthermore, Murray reported:
“In a recent private communication Professor Tiselius, head of the Nobel Institute, has expressed his personal opinion that Paulesco was equally worthy of the award in 1923.”
Paulescu has been criticized for expressing antisemitic and anti-Masonic views in articles such as The Judeo-Masonic plot against the Romanian nation. He was an associate of A. C. Cuza, and wrote extensively for the latter’s newspaper Apărarea Naţională.
Following protests from several Jewish organizations, the inauguration of Professor Paulescu’s bust at the Hôtel-Dieu State Hospital in Paris, scheduled for August 27, 2003, had to be cancelled.
“If the Nobel Committee in 1923 judged the entire persona of its laureate, then Hôtel Dieu in 2003 must do no less and conclude that Paulescu’s brutal inhumanity nullifies any scientific merit” (Simon Wiesenthal Center letter to the French Minister of Health, Jean-François Mattéi, and the Romanian Ambassador in Paris).
However, such an opinion was not shared by Romanian Jew Nicolae Cajal, a member of the Romanian Academy of Sciences, who stated that there is a need to dissociate between individuals’ private views and their scientific merit, mentioning that his own father, a student of Paulescu, admired Paulescu for his scientific skills, although he could not agree (as a Jew) with Paulescu’s anti-Semitic views.
Paulescu died in 1931 in Bucharest. He is buried in Bellu cemetery.
In 1990, he was elected posthumously to the Romanian Academy. On June 27, 1993, in Cluj-Napoca, a postmark was dedicated in Paulescu’s honor to observe the World Day Against Diabetes. Paulescu was also honored on a postage stamp issued by Romania in 1994. The stamp is one in a set of seven stamps honoring famous Romanians. In 1993, a new Institute of Diabetes, Nutrition and Metabolic Diseases in Bucharest was named in his honor.
Romanian Physician Contributes to the Control of Diabetes
Romanian physician Nicolae Paulescu is best known for his contributions to the management and control of diabetes mellitus. He reported his data on the isolation of a pancreatic hormone, which he termed “pancreine,” to the Biological Society in Bucharest in March 1921 and published his data in the French journal Archives Internationales de Physiologie in August 1921. He was unable to continue his research, however, because of financial reasons and thus abandoned his plans. Consequently, Canadians Charles H. Best (1899-1978) and Sir Frederick G. Banting (1891-1941) investigated and developed the drug insulin, for which they shared (with John J. R. Macleod [1876-1935]) the 1923 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Paulescu never received international recognition for his original contributions to the study of diabetes mellitus.
Paulescu was born on Nov. 8,1869, in Bucharest, Romania. He had a deformity of the vertebral column, which had dveloped when he was a child. This made him self-conscious, and he became a loner; thus, he devoted a considerable amount of time to his studies.
After the successful completion of his schoolwork in Romania, Paulescu studied medicine in Paris. He wrote a dissertation on the structure of the spleen and, in 1897, received his medical degree from the University of Paris. He was appointed an “interne des hôpitaux de Paris.” This was a major achievement because at that time it was difficult for foreign physicians to receive such an appointment in France. Moreover, that same year, he was appointed secretary of the Journal de Medicine Interne and continued his scientific studies in biochemistry and physiology at the Faculty of Science of the University of Paris.
In 1900, Paulescu unexpectedly quit his promising medical career in Paris and returned to Bucharest, where he became a teacher of physiology as a member of the medical faculty of the University of Bucharest. He was not only a teacher and practicing physician but also a researcher of the structure of the spleen and the pathogenesis of fever. He became interested in the field of surgery, and he and a colleague developed a surgical technique for the extraction of the hypophysis (the pituitary gland). His book on the pituitary, L’ hypophyse du cerveau, was published in Paris in 1908. In 1920, his textbook on medical physiology was published in Bucharest.
During the last years of his life, Paulescu devoted increasingly more time to politics and to the improvement of the lives of his fellow Romanians. He continued to teach in Bucharest until he died on June 19, 1931, at the age of 61 years.
On June 27, 1993, in Cluj, Romania, a postmark was dedicated in Paulescu’s honor to observe World Day Against Diabetes, and recently a new institute of metabolic diseases in Bucharest was named in his honor. Paulescu was also honored on a stamp issued by Romania in 1994. The stamp is one in a set of seven stamps honoring famous Romanians. Another physician, Gheorghe Polizu (1819-1886), was also honored in this set.