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Thorburn Brailsford Robertson

The first treatment of diabetes was recorded in 1922. The rapid development and use of insulin preparations occurred in a matter of months. Communications were rapid, and in 1923 Thorburn Brailsford Robertson was able to treat patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Adelaide using a similar extract as Banting.

  • Prof Thorburn Brailsford Robertson.
    Prof Thorburn Robertson
  • Stained glass memorial.
    A stained glass memorial to Robertson.

Thorburn Brailsford Robertson was born in Edinburgh in 1884. His father was an insurance clerk and was involved with the Callington mining company, which required his presence in South Australia. His wife and son joined him in 1892. Young Robertson was educated privately but studied sciences at the University of Adelaide where he was taught by Edward Stirling and William Bragg.

In 1905 he moved to Berkeley in the USA. He received a PhD there in 1907, and a year later he was awarded a Doctor of Science from the University of Adelaide. In 1910 he became Associate Professor of Physiological Chemistry and Pharmacology and earned a full chair there in 1917. He was offered a chair of biochemistry in Toronto but returned to Adelaide when Sir Edward Stirling retired, to become Professor of Physiology.

He introduced many innovations in teaching and postgraduate education. He was a popular lecturer and respected original thinker.

In the early 1920's he became involved with the manufacture of insulin in Adelaide under the licence of the Toronto insulin committee. The News (Adelaide) published an article on Monday 12th November, 1923, p. 9, entitled "INSULIN — Adelaide reseaches — Rate cheapened", in which they talk about the significant increase in insulin extraction efficiency made by his team.

He used pancreases obtained from the abattoirs (porcine and bovine).

By 1924 he was able to provide 48,000 doses at a cost of four pence a dose. In a letter to the University Council he mentioned his co-workers, Miss Cheadle and Mr. Marston, and said that a pound of animal pancreas can produce 50 doses.

Eli Lilly and other drug companies became soon involved and took over the manufacture and further research. But the Adelaide first in manufacturing insulin is indisputable.