Elsie Bertram lecture features Canadian discovery of Insulin

April sees the second annual Elsie Bertram Memorial Lecture take place in Norwich with a guest speaker from Toronto, Canada, Professor Michael Bliss. Professor Bliss is Professor of Medical History at Toronto, where insulin was first discovered in the 1920s.

The Canadian discovery of insulin became a lifesaver for millions and continues to be vitally important to people with diabetes in the twenty-first century.

The annual Bertram lecture commemorates the very significant contribution the late Elsie Bertram made to diabetes services in Norfolk over the past 25 years. Mrs Bertram helped establish the Norwich and Norfolk Diabetes Trust that led to a number of landmark developments:

  • The Bertram Diabetes Centre opened in 1989
  • The Bertram Diabetes Eye Unit opened in 1994
  • The Bertram Diabetes Research Unit opened in 1997
  • The computerised Mobile Eye Screening service started in 2000

Mrs Bertram died in October 2003 at the age of 91. She had developed an active interest in diabetes as a result of her two sons developing the disorder.

Diabetes continues to be one of the fastest growing chronic diseases in Norfolk, with 1000 new diagnoses a year locally, and at least 12,000 people in East Norfolk with the condition.

Consultant endocrinologist Dr Philip Heyburn said; “Professor Bliss is an internationally recognised medical historian and Canadian political commentator.  In modern times the impact of the discovery of insulin is easy to underestimate. At the time it was an internationally recognised “miracle”.

Professor Bliss has extensively researched the discovery of insulin and published two works related to this (The Discovery of Insulin [1982]; Banting: A Biography [1984]).  The story is fascinating not just as an example of medical history but also of the interpersonal relationships of those involved.  Professor Bliss is also a superb “story-teller”.

The second Elsie Bertram Memorial Lecture takes place on Monday April 4th, at 6pm in the lecture theatre at the John Innes Centre, Colney Lane. The lecture is entitled “Resurrection: The Miracle of Insulin” and will given by Professor Bliss. Entrance is free and does not require a ticket.


There are two forms of diabetes. Type 1 (“insulin dependent”) diabetes occurs in younger people when the pancreas stops producing insulin. Daily injections of insulin are required for well being and good diabetic control, for life. 

The number of children being diagnosed at NNUH with Type 1 diabetes has doubled over the past 15 years. Type 2 (“non insulin dependent”) diabetes affects older people.  The pancreas still produces insulin but in an inco-ordinated manner insufficient to control blood glucose levels.

There are about 12,000 people with Type 2 diabetes in East Norfolk and a further 1000 are diagnosed each year locally. Before the discovery of insulin in the 1920s Type 1 diabetes always proved fatal. It is thought that the onset of diabetes is caused by a mixture of genetic factors, obesity, poor diet or lack of exercise.

Diabetes explained

Diabetes can affect babies, children, young people and adults of all ages and is becoming more common. Diabetes can result in premature death, ill health and disability yet these can often be prevented or delayed by good diabetic control and high-quality care.

Diabetes is a group of disorders with many different causes all of which include raised blood glucose levels. This is the result of a lack of the hormone insulin and/or an inability to respond to insulin. Insulin in the blood, produced by the pancreas is the hormone which ensures that glucose (sugar) obtained from food can be used by the body.

Type I diabetes About 20% of people with diabetes in England have Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin because the insulin-producing cells (b-cells) have been destroyed by the body's immune system. Type 1 diabetes develops most frequently in children, young people and young adults. Although it is less common than Type 2 diabetes it is more immediately evident and symptoms can develop very rapidly. These include increased thirst and urine production, weight loss despite increased appetite, tiredness and blurred vision. People with Type 1 diabetes need daily injections of insulin to survive.

Type 2 diabetes About 80% of those with diabetes in England have Type 2 diabetes where the pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin for the body's needs. The majority of people with Type 2 diabetes also have some degree of insulin resistance, where the cells in the body are not able to respond to the insulin that is produced. Type 2 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in adults over the age of 40, although increasingly it is appearing in young people and young adults. Glucose builds up in the blood, as in people with Type 1 diabetes, but symptoms appear more gradually and the diabetes may not be diagnosed for some years. People with Type 2 diabetes need to adjust their diet and their lifestyle. Many are overweight or obese and will be advised to lose weight. Some will also need to take tablets and/or insulin to achieve control of their blood glucose level.

Tuesday 8th of March 2005 10:00:51 AM