Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism

: 2011  |  Volume : 15  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 147--148

The other insulin story of 1921

Ambika Gopalakrishnan Unnikrishnan1, Sanjay Kalra2, Manash Baruah3,  
1 Department of Endocrinology, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, Kerala, India
2 Bharti Hospital, Karnal, Haryana, India
3 Endocrinology Center, Guwahati, Assam, India

Correspondence Address:
Ambika Gopalakrishnan Unnikrishnan
Department of Endocrinology, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, Kerala

How to cite this article:
Unnikrishnan AG, Kalra S, Baruah M. The other insulin story of 1921.Indian J Endocr Metab 2011;15:147-148

How to cite this URL:
Unnikrishnan AG, Kalra S, Baruah M. The other insulin story of 1921. Indian J Endocr Metab [serial online] 2011 [cited 2021 Jan 21 ];15:147-148
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Full Text

The year 1921 was an important year as far as insulin was concerned. A dedicated team of scientists led by Banting and Best discovered the hormone that we call "insulin." This won them the Nobel Prize. And this discovery offered hope to thousands of subjects with diabetes. The year is still remembered worldwide by people involved in diabetes and its management. [1]

Yet, unknown to many, the year set the beginning of another glorious chapter in the field of diabetes. In fact, this was an event of great importance in endocrinology and diabetes, an event that led to a discovery no less wondrous and stunning than the discovery of insulin. The date was 19 July, 1921. And the place was New York City. A little baby girl was born to two European migrants, Clara Zipper and Simon Sussman. [2] Later, this baby girl would grow up and marry Aaron Yalow. She would soon be called Dr. Rosalyn Yalow, the Nobel Prize winning phenomenon, and a person as close to the tag of the "Mother of Endocrinology" as anyone could ever claim to be. This article in the IJEM is a tribute to Dr. Yalow, who passed away recently.

At this stage, it is easy to be overwhelmed by eulogies on Dr. Rosalyn Yalow. For, did she not have many admirable identities to her credit? Rosalyn Yalow was a woman scientist in a field dominated by men. She changed the science and practice of medicine, particularly endocrinology. Born of European migrants, she fought her way to success. She devised the radioimmunoassay and led the scientists of the world toward accurate hormone measurement. And that first hormone to be measured was, fittingly insulin, the same hormone that was discovered in the year of her birth. In addition to the Nobel Prize, she had won several honors: Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award; A. Cressy Morrison Award in Natural Sciences of the N.Y. Academy of Sciences; Scientific Achievement Award of the American Medical Association; Koch Award of the Endocrine Society; Gairdner Foundation International Award; American College of Physicians Award for distinguished contributions in science as related to medicine; Eli Lilly Award of the American Diabetes Association; and First William S. Middleton Medical Research Award of the VA and five honorary doctorates. [2]

Fittingly, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow and her collaborator, Dr. Solomon Berson, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977 for the discovery of the radioimmunoassay. The radioimmunoassay, which led to the creation of bigger and better assays, ushered in a revolution in the measurement of hormones.

However, in addition to the eulogies, this article will try to focus on two separate, but important aspects to Dr. Yalow's greatness. First, what is the secret of Dr. Yalow's historic success? And what is the impact of her research on the world?

What led Dr. Yalow to such amazing success? Well, her short autobiography, published on the Nobel Prize Web site, offers a glimpse. "Through the years my mother has told me that it was fortunate that I chose to do acceptable things, for if I had chosen otherwise no one could have deflected me from my path," wrote Dr. Yalow herself on the Web site [2] She also called herself a "stubborn, determined child." [2] Possibly, therein lay the secret of her triumph over adversity and her path to success. Determination and persistence is the key to any researcher achieving their dream. We hope that young endocrinology researchers from India will get inspired by her message of steadfastness to a cause and thus lead the country's scientific community to greater heights.

Finally, what has been the impact of Dr Yalow's work? To tell the truth, her achievements are too mindboggling for us to conceive in their totality, although we will put in our best efforts. She measured the first hormone. She found a way to measure insulin. Dr. Yalow led the path for the scientists of the world to measure peptide levels. In other words, her discovery meant that doctors could now measure their patient's hormone levels! And thus, her work has been critical in helping us diagnose endocrine disease and hormone dysfunction.

In addition to being a top researcher, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow also trained a large number of researchers from across the world. And many among them became masters of investigative endocrinology in places all over the world, and this compounded her success further. And among these masters is Dr. N Kochupilai, who trained under Dr Rosalyn Yalow, and became a leading figure in the field of endocrine research in India. In a paper he coauthored with Dr Yalow in 1978, he describes the purification, preparation, and stability of thyroid hormones. [3] This work became the forerunner to TSH testing and detection. Eventually, his group championed the effective tackling of iodine deficiency disorders in India and the developing world.

Two weeks ago, on 30 May, 2011, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow passed away. [4] She was 89 years old. We hope that her story inspires future generations of researchers to greatness.


1Accessed from: [Last accessed on 2011 Jun 13].
2Accessed from: [Last accessed on 2011 Jun 13].
3Kochupillai N, Yalow R. Preparation, purification, and stability of high specific activity 125I-labeled thyronines. Endocrinology 1978;102:128-35.
4Accessed from: [Last accessed on 2011 Jun 13].