A refused Nobel

Nicolae Paulescu (October 30, 1869 – July 17, 1931), Romanian physiologist and professor of medicine, the inventor of insulin.

Born in Bucharest, he displayed remarkable abilities as early as his first school years. He learned French, Latin and Ancient Greek at an early age, so that a few years later he became fluent in all these languages and was able to read classical works of Latin and Greek literature in the original. He also had a particular gift for drawing and music and special inclinations towards natural sciences, such as physics and chemistry. He graduated from the Mihai Viteazu High School in Bucharest, in 1888. In the autumn of 1888, Paulescu left for Paris, where he enrolled in medical school. In 1897 he graduated with a Doctor of Medicine degree, and was immediately appointed as assistant surgeon at the Notre-Dame du Perpétuel-Secours Hospital. In 1900, Paulescu returned to Romania, where he remained until his death (1931) as Head of the Physiology Department of the University of Bucharest Medical School, as well as a Professor of Clinical Medicine at the St. Vincent de Paul Hospital in Bucharest.

In 1916, he succeeded in developing an aqueous pancreatic extract which, when injected into a diabetic dog, proved to have a normalizing effect on blood sugar levels. After a gap during World War I, he resumed his research and succeeded in isolating the anti-diabetic pancreatic hormone (pancreine). From April 24 to June 23, 1921, Paulescu published four papers at the Romanian Section of the Society of Biology in Paris:
* The effect of the pancreatic extract injected into a diabetic animal by way of the blood.
* The influence of the time elapsed from the intravenous pancreatic injection into a diabetic animal.
* The effect of the pancreatic extract injected into a normal animal by way of the blood.
* Research on the Role of the Pancreas in Food Assimilation, an extensive paper on this subject, was submitted by Paulescu on June 22 to the Archives Internationales de Physiologie in Liège, Belgium, and was published in the August 1921 issue of this journal. Furthermore, Paulescu secured the patent rights for his method of manufacturing pancreine (his own term for insulin) on April 10, 1922 (patent no. 6254) from the Romanian Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Eight months after Paulescu's works were published, doctor Frederick Grant Banting and biochemist John James Richard Macleod from the University of Toronto, Canada, published their paper on the successful use of a pancreatic extract for normalizing blood sugar (glucose) levels (glycemia) in diabetic dogs. Their paper is a mere confirmatory paper, with direct references to Paulescu's article. Surprisingly, Banting and Macleod received the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of insulin, while Paulescu's pioneering work was being completely ignored by the scientific and medical community. International recognition for Paulescu's merits as the true discoverer of insulin came only 50 years later.

In 1990, Nicolae Paulescu was elected posthumously to the Romanian Academy. On June 27, 1993, in Cluj-Napoca, a postmark was dedicated in Paulescu’s honor to observe the World Day Against Diabetes. Paulescu was also honored on a postage stamp issued by Romania in 1994. The stamp is one in a set of seven stamps honoring famous Romanians. In 1993, a new Institute of Diabetes, Nutrition and Metabolic Diseases in Bucharest was named in his honor.