Charles Best Biography

Charles Best
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Quick Facts

Birthday: February 27, 1899

Died At Age: 79

Sun Sign: Pisces

Also Known As: Charles H. Best, Charles Herbert Best

Born Country: Canada

Born in: West Pembroke, Pembroke, Maine, United States

Famous as: Co-discoverer of Insulin

Biochemists Physiologists

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Margaret Mahon (1900–1988);

children: Charles Alexander Best, Henry Bruce Macleod Best

Died on: March 31, 1978

place of death: Toronto, Canada

More Facts

education: University of Toronto

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Who was Charles Best?

Charles Herbert Best was an American-Canadian medical scientist and physiologist who along with Canadian medical scientist and physician Sir Frederick Banting co-discovered insulin and the technique of applying it to treat diabetes. Best began working as a laboratory assistant of Dr. Banting at the ‘University of Toronto’ while undergoing graduate studies at the university. The duo remained among the first ones to obtain a hormone called insulin (which is made by the pancreas) in a form that kept diabetes of dogs under control. Insulin, which permits a body to use glucose or sugar that are obtained from carbohydrates from the food that is consumed for energy and also to reserve it for future use, was then effectively put to use by the duo for treating diabetes in human patients. This pioneering work led Dr. Banting to receive the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1923 along with Scottish biochemist and physiologist J.J.R. Macleod for their contributions in such significant  work, however as Best was yet to receive his medical degree, he was left out from the award. The other discoveries of Best include the enzyme histaminase and the vitamin choline. He also remains among the first ones to introduce anticoagulants for treating thrombosis, a condition of blood clotting in a region of the circulatory system. He became the director of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research at the ‘University of Toronto’ succeeding Dr. Banting after working with the latter as research associate in the department for years. Best received much recognition and several honours for his work on insulin.  His awards include ‘Flavelle Medal’ (1950); ‘Gairdner Foundation International Award’ (1971); and the Canadian version of the ‘Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal’ (1977).

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Childhood & Early Life

He was born on February 27, 1899, in West Pembroke in the north-eastern-most U.S. state of Maine to Canadian citizens from Nova Scotia, Dr. Herbert Huestes Best and his wife Luella Fisher Best. His father was a general practitioner.

Best wanted to further his studies at the ‘University of Toronto’ and in that pursuit he re-located to Toronto, Canada in 1915 and joined the University College, University of Toronto in the following year.

However his studies got interrupted when he joined the Canadian Army in 1918. During the ‘First World War’ he served the 2nd Canadian Tank Battalion.

Following the war in 1919 he resumed his studies at the ‘University of Toronto’ from where he graduated in May 1921 with degree in physiology and biochemistry. He then did a summer research job as a research assistant to J.J.R. Macleod, professor of physiology at the ‘University of Toronto’.

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Contribution in Discovering Insulin

Canadian medical scientist and physician Dr. Frederick Banting, who was then serving part-time at the ‘University of Western Ontario’, teaching anthropology and orthopedics, visited Professor J.J.R. Macleod at the ‘University of Toronto’ in the spring of 1921 and discussed with the latter if he could use the experimental facilities of the latter to isolate pancreatic secretions from dogs.

Macleod left for a summer holiday to Scotland and before doing so he provided Dr. Banting with two medical students namely Charles Best and Clark Noble for lab assistance and ten dogs for experimental pursuit.

What followed was probably destined for both the students! As only one lab assistant was required by Dr. Banting, the two students agreed to flip a coin to decide who would be the first to assist. Such an action changed the life of Best who won the toss and joined Dr. Banting for the first shift.

Another aspect that needs to be mentioned here was that Best was a talented athlete who became a professional baseball player. He used to pay his educational expenses from his earnings from baseball. However when the option came between choosing a lucrative contract for playing baseball and to commence research with Dr. Banting, both of which came in the summer of 1921, he chose the latter.    

It so happened that Dr. Banting decided to continue working with Best as his lab assistant for the whole of summer and thus the flip of the coin proved to be unfortunate for Noble. On the other hand Best, a 22 year medical student, went on to make significant contributions in the discovery of insulin that led to the successful treatment of diabetes in human patients. Dr. Banting not only shared half of the money he received from Nobel Prize with Best but also credited Best for his contributions in the discovery of insulin.    

The chemical tests including measuring blood, urinary nitrogen and urinary sugar were conducted by Best on behalf of Dr. Banting in a chain of investigations on dogs with pancreas and those whose pancreas were removed. In July 1921 the duo started to inject secretions of degenerated pancreas into diabetic dogs whose pancreas were removed and after such injections the blood sugar levels declined frequently, which were recorded by the duo.

They repeated such investigations and reported findings in their first paper that was titled ‘The Internal Secretion of the Pancreas’. On December 30, 1921, the paper was presented during the ‘American Physiological Society’ meeting at Yale and in February 1922 the ‘Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine’ published it.  

Dr. Banting was not experienced in physiology and was facing challenges along with Best in comprehending the progresses made by co-workers and also the drawbacks of the papers he and Best made that included serious misinterpretations and factual errors.

Macleod who was supervising their work came forward and found many flaws in the procedure applied by the duo but was however impressed by Dr. Banting’s dedication, enthusiasm and optimism. Macleod instructed the duo to prepare saline extract from pancreas that was chilled.

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When Macleod saw that the duo was struggling to refine the pancreatic secretion and monitor sugar levels, he brought experienced biochemist James B. Collip in the team in December 1921 following which the work progressed rapidly. They made headway in the technique of extraction, in employing fresh pancreas in acid alcohol and also in exploring the anti-diabetic properties of the secretions.

On January 11, 1922, with the help of Dr. Banting, Best administered their pancreatic secretions on Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old patient in Toronto General Hospital but Thompson endured an allergic reaction. Thus further administration of the secretion became unjustifiable.      

 Meanwhile Collip prepared a more purified form of insulin that was further administered on Thompson on January 23, 1922. This application gave impressive results that manifested the discovery of insulin and its significance in treating diabetic patients.

Dr. Banting, Best and Collip declared such discovery in ‘Effect Produced on Diabetes by Extracts of Pancreas’ and sold the patent for insulin for a dollar to the ‘University of Toronto’.

Obtaining Medical Degree & Career Thereafter

Best went on to complete his medical training and thereafter pursued postgraduate research at the National Institute for Medical Research and the University of London under the supervision of English pharmacologist and physiologist Sir Henry Hallett Dale. Best obtained his D.Sc. in 1928.

‘University of Toronto’ inducted him in the School of Hygiene and later in 1929 he became professor of physiology at the university succeeding Macleod.

He continued with his research works that predominantly focussed on investigations of the lipotropic effects of choline and also on different problems associated with insulin.

During the late 1930’s his lab laid the groundwork in isolating and generating heparin that immediately emerged as a significant anticoagulant that can be applied clinically in vascular operations.

Best along with E.W. McHenry displayed the activity of the enzyme histaminases that is involved in the oxidation, inactivation and metabolism of the organic nitrogenous compound histamine.

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In 1937 the first edition of his textbook ‘The Physiological Basis of Medical Practice’ that he co-authored with Norman B. Taylor came out. It came to be widely used.

In 1941 he became the head of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research succeeding Dr. Banting after the latter’s death that year.

He also played a significant role in setting up a Canadian program during the ‘Second World War’ to secure and apply dried blood serum of human being.

Later he became an adviser of the ‘Medical Research Committee’ of ‘World Health Organization’.

His deteriorating health led him to retire from the ‘University of Toronto’ in 1965. He was recipient of honorary doctorates from eighteen universities across the world including ‘University of Toronto ‘, ‘University of Oxford’, ‘University of Edinburgh’ and ‘University of Chicago’ among others.

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Recognitions, Achievements & Honours

His scientific contributions especially in discovering insulin led him to receive several honours and recognitions. These included being elected by ‘Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences’ as a foreign member in 1946; elected by  ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ as a foreign honorary member in 1948; made the Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967; and member of Order of the Companions of Honour in 1971 among others.

He became the first Canadian who was elected into the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Society of London.

Best was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004.

Personal Life & Legacy

On September 3, 1924, Best married Margaret Hooper Mahon in Toronto. The couple were blessed with two sons. One of his sons, Charles Alexander Best was a Canadian politician, scientist, farmer and nurseryman who was a Member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and was elected to the Canadian House of Commons. Another son of Best Dr. Henry Best was a renowned historian who went on to become president of ‘Laurentian University’ in Sudbury, Ontario.

Best passed away on March 31, 1978, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at the age of 79 years. He was buried in ‘Mount Pleasant Cemetery’ in Toronto.

The ‘C.H. Best East Middle School’ in Toronto, Ontario, the ‘C.H. Best West Elementary School’ in Burlington, Ontario and ‘Dr. Charles Best Secondary School’ in Coquitlam, British Columbia are named after him. Maine, where he was born, finds place in the list of US National Register of Historic Places.   

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