Charles Best (medical scientist)

Charles Herbert Best CC, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSC, FRCP[1] (February 27, 1899 – March 31, 1978), was an American-Canadian medical scientist and one of the co-discoverers of insulin with Frederick Banting. He served as the chair of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research at the University of Toronto and was further involved in research concerning choline and heparin.

Charles Best
Best, c. 1959
Charles Herbert Best

(1899-02-27)February 27, 1899
DiedMarch 31, 1978(1978-03-31) (aged 79)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Alma materUniversity of Toronto
Known forCo-discoverer of insulin
Margaret Mahon (1900–1988)
(m. 1924)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Toronto

Early life


Charles Herbert Best was born in Pembroke, Maine, on February 27, 1899, to Luella Fisher and Herbert Huestis Best, a Canadian-born physician from Nova Scotia.[2] His father, Herbert Best, was a doctor in a small Maine town with a limited economy based mostly on sardine-packing.[2] His mother, Lulu Newcomb, later Lulu Best, was a soprano singer, organist, and pianist. Charles Best grew up in Pembroke before going to Toronto, Ontario, to study medicine in 1915.[2]

By the time Best had reached college age and was choosing between such schools as McGill University and the University of Toronto, family connections persuaded him to pursue his studies in Toronto. Family illness had guided Best's research interests—his Aunt Anna dying of diabetes had profound effects on him.[2] It was for this reason, and the fact that his father was a physician, that he chose to study at University of Toronto and train to become a doctor.[2] His university studies were interrupted following his first year by the onset of the First World War.[1] He served as an infantry soldier, reaching the rank of acting Sergeant Major.[2] Following his service, he eventually returned to university in Toronto, but was falling behind in his classes.

Co-discovery of insulin


Best moved in 1915 to Toronto, Ontario, where he started studying towards a bachelor of arts degree at University College, University of Toronto. In 1918, he enlisted in the Canadian Army serving with the 2nd Canadian Tank Battalion. After the war, he completed his degree in physiology and biochemistry.[3]

As a 22-year-old medical student at the University of Toronto he worked as an assistant to the surgeon Dr. Frederick Banting[4] and contributed to the discovery of the pancreatic hormone insulin, which led to an effective treatment for diabetes. In the spring of 1921, Banting travelled to Toronto to visit John Macleod, professor of physiology at the University of Toronto, and asked Macleod if he could use his laboratory to isolate pancreatic extracts from dogs. Macleod was initially sceptical, but eventually agreed before leaving on holiday for the summer. Before leaving for Scotland he supplied Banting with ten dogs for experiment and two medical students, Charles Best and Edward Clark Noble, as lab assistants.

It was reported that Best and Noble flipped a coin to see who would assist Banting during the first period of four weeks.[5] According to Best, however, this was the product of a journalist’s imagination, or "newspaper fiction".[6][7] Nonetheless, Frederick Banting is known to have mentioned this story when discussing the discovery of insulin.[8]

Charles Best and Frederick Banting, ca. 1924. The Discovery and Early Development of Insulin Digital Collection, Toronto

MacLeod was overseeing the work of Banting, who had no experience in physiology, and his assistant Best. In December 1921, when Banting and Best were having difficulties in refining the pancreatic extract and monitoring glucose levels, MacLeod assigned the biochemist James Collip to the team. In January 1922, while Collip was working on insulin purification, Best and Banting administered prematurely their pancreatic extracts to 14-year-old Leonard Thompson, who suffered a severe allergic reaction. Eventually, Collip succeeded in preparing insulin in a more pure, usable form. Banting, Best and Collip shared the patent for insulin, which they sold to the University of Toronto for one dollar.

In 1923, the Nobel Prize Committee honoured Banting and John Macleod with the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of insulin, ignoring Best and Collip. Banting chose to share half of the prize money with Best. The key contribution by Collip was recognised in the Nobel speech of MacLeod, who also gave one-half of his prize money to Collip. However, "if Banting was hoping that this might offer Best some consolation for not having shared in the prize, he was mistaken. Best’s resentment at having been overlooked began to irritate Banting", to the point that Banting stated in 1941 "If I don’t come back and they give my [Professorial] Chair to that son-of-a-bitch Best, I’ll never rest in my grave", shortly before Banting boarded a plane for the UK which crashed and killed him. After Banting's death, Best "claimed that the crucial innovation of using alcohol to remove toxic impurities had largely been his own", even though this had actually been Collip's key contribution.[9] In 1972 the Nobel Foundation officially conceded that omitting Best was a mistake.[10] In fact, Best was not considered because he was never nominated.[11] Nomination for a Nobel Prize can only be made by certain individuals, including former recipients of the Prize, and his central role along with Banting was not known to those who had the ability to make nominations. Best was subsequently nominated for the 1950 Nobel Prize in physiology based on his work on choline and heparin.[12]

Professor of physiology


Best succeeded Macleod as professor of physiology at University of Toronto in 1929.[13] During World War II he was influential in establishing a Canadian program for securing and using dried human blood serum. In his later years, he was an adviser to the Medical Research Committee of the United Nations World Health Organization

Personal life


Best later claimed that the greatest moment of his life occurred when he met his future wife, Margaret Mahon (1900–1988) following his return.[2] Best married Margaret Hooper Mahon in Toronto in 1924 and they had two sons. One son, Henry Best was a well-regarded historian who later became president of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Best's other son was Charles Alexander Best, a Canadian politician and geneticist. Best is the grandfather of Susan MacTavish Best.[14]

Best died on March 31, 1978, in Toronto.[15] He is interred in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, not far from Sir Frederick Banting.

Awards and honours

The gravestone of Best (section 29) in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery

Best was elected a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1946.[16] He was elected a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1948.[17] He was elected to both the American Philosophical Society and the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1950.[18][19] In 1967 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in recognition for "his contribution to medicine, particularly as co-discoverer of insulin."[20] He was a commander of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire[3] and was made a member of Order of the Companions of Honour in 1971 "for services to Medical Research".[21] He was a fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Royal Society of Canada, and was the first Canadian to be elected into the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.[3]

As a recipient of the Order of Canada, he was awarded the Canadian version of the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977.

In 1994 he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Dr. Charles Best Secondary School in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Dr. Charles Best Public School in Burlington, Ontario, and Charles H. Best Middle School in Toronto, Ontario, are named in his honour. His birthplace in Maine is listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.

Honorary degrees


Dr. Charles Best received 18[22] honorary degrees from universities around the world including

See also



  1. ^ a b Young, F.; Hales, C. N. (1982). "Charles Herbert Best. 27 February 1899-31 March 1978". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 28: 1–25. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1982.0001. JSTOR 769890.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Best, Henry B. M. (June 2003). Margaret and Charley: The Personal Story of Dr. Charles Best, the Co-Discoverer of Insulin. Dundurn. ISBN 9781550029864.
  3. ^ a b c "Charles Herbert Best". University of Toronto. Archived from the original on 11 March 2005.
  4. ^ Best, C. H. (1 November 1942). "Frederick Grant Banting. 1891–1941". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 4 (11): 20–26. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1942.0003. S2CID 162239410.
  5. ^ Wright, J. R. (December 2002). "Almost famous: E. Clark Noble, the common thread in the discovery of insulin and vinblastine". CMAJ. 167 (12): 1391–6. PMC 137361. PMID 12473641.
  6. ^ Best, Henry B. M. (2003). Margaret and Charley : the personal story of Dr. Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin. Toronto, Ont.: Dundurn Group. p. 47. ISBN 1-4175-9533-7. OCLC 60410852.
  7. ^ Rosenfeld, Louis (1 December 2002). "Insulin: Discovery and Controversy". Clinical Chemistry. 48 (12): 2270–2288. doi:10.1093/clinchem/48.12.2270. ISSN 0009-9147. PMID 12446492.
  8. ^ Banting, Frederick (11 October 1934). "The Early Story of Insulin" (PDF). University of Toronto. p. 2. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 June 2023. Retrieved 8 March 2024.
  9. ^ "The discovery of insulin: A story of monstrous egos and toxic rivalries". 11 January 2022.
  10. ^ Rosenfeld, Louis (2002). "Insulin: Discovery and Controversy". Clinical Chemistry. 48 (12): 2270–2288. doi:10.1093/clinchem/48.12.2270. PMID 12446492.
  11. ^ Best, Henry B. M. (2003). Margaret and Charley : the personal story of Dr. Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin. Toronto, Ont.: Dundurn Group. pp. 87–90. ISBN 1-4175-9533-7. OCLC 60410852.
  12. ^ Best, Henry B. M. (2003). Margaret and Charley : the personal story of Dr. Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin. Toronto, Ont.: Dundurn Group. pp. 280–282. ISBN 1-4175-9533-7. OCLC 60410852.
  13. ^ "Charles Best". Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  14. ^ "How to Host the Ultimate Lavish Holiday Party". Sunset. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  15. ^ "Dr. Charles H. Best. A Pioneer In Insulin". The New York Times. United Press International. 1 April 1978.
  16. ^ "C. H. Best (1899–1978)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  17. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  18. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 22 February 2023.
  19. ^ "Charles Best". Retrieved 22 February 2023.
  20. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. Order of Canada citation. Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 24 May 2010
  21. ^ "Supplement to the London Gazette". London Gazette. 12 June 1971. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015.
  22. ^ "Banting and Best Department of Medical Research Chair". Archived from the original on 11 March 2005. Retrieved 11 March 2005.
  23. ^ "Honorary Degrees 1940-1949 | Convocation | the University of Chicago". Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  24. ^ "Honorary doctorates 1945-1960 - University of Amsterdam". Archived from the original on 29 October 2017. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  25. ^ "University Secretar's Department : University Calendar - Honoris Causa Degrees : The University of Melbourne". Archived from the original on 5 December 2010. Retrieved 27 January 2011.
  26. ^ "Honorary Graduates of the University of Edinburgh". Archived from the original on 27 May 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  27. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients: Office of the Provost - Northwestern University". Archived from the original on 11 April 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  28. ^ "Honorary Doctorates - the Hebrew University of Jerusalem".
  29. ^ "University of Toronto Honorary Degree Recipients 1850-2021" (PDF). University of Toronto. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 September 2021. Retrieved 10 April 2022.

Further reading

  • Henry B. M. Best (2003). Margaret and Charley: The Personal Story of Dr. Charles Best, the Co-Discoverer of Insulin. Dundurn Press Ltd. ISBN 1-55002-399-3.
  • John Waller (2002) Fabulous Science: fact and fiction in the history of scientific discovery, Oxford. See Chapter 11: "Painting yourself into a corner; Charles Best and the discovery of insulin", page 223.