When you think of diabetes, your mind doesn’t automatically turn to a dog, now does it? Many people don’t know that dogs and other animals played a significant role in diabetes research and the discovery of insulin. Marjorie, a diabetic dog, was the first mammal to live on insulin and contributed to the groundbreaking introduction of insulin into diabetes treatment.

Jessica Apple, co-founder and editor-in-chief of A Sweet Life, a program of the Diabetes Media Foundation, came across Marjorie’s story and wanted to share it with her diabetic community. She also thought Marjorie’s legacy would be a great catapult for a fundraiser to raise money for support for diabetics.

A self-proclaimed animal lover and type 1 diabetic, Jessica hopes that calling attention to Marjorie’s story will inspire diabetic patients to have more gratitude for today’s diabetes treatments and the animals behind the advancements.

Marjorie the Dog

Before the discovery of insulin in 1922, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis was a death sentence. Most patients starved to death. In 1921, two Canadian scientists, Frederick Banting and Charles Best, successfully used injected insulin to keep Marjorie alive. She survived for 70 days while the ten other dogs treated lasted roughly a week. “She lived for 70 days on injected insulin, and I can imagine that not a single one of those days was painless or easy,” Jessica tells Diabetic Connect.

Marjorie symbolizes a pivotal advance in diabetes research. Banting received the Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine for this work and shared the prize money with Best. “Sweet dogs, you are heroes and you have my endless gratitude. Banting and Best got all of the credit, but you deserve a fair share, too,” Jessica says.

Her Inspiration

Jessica describes Marjorie and the other dogs whose lives were sacrificed on the path to discovery of insulin as her heroes. “This [fundraiser] is our chance to honor [Marjorie] and the other dogs whose lives were sacrificed. And it’s also a chance for all of us to say [that]diabetes is not easy or painless—but we can still celebrate all that we have, and how far we’ve come.”

Marjorie is a symbolic leader of the Diabetes Media Foundation community. “Our diabetes community is a pack. And I view Marjorie as its symbolic leader because she stands for all that we have to be grateful for. It’s easy to get frustrated and upset about diabetes. And insulin definitely comes with its drawbacks. All that said, we shouldn’t forget to be grateful for what we have.”

Diabetes Media Foundation Fundraiser

Jessica and her A Sweet Life and Diabetes Media Foundation colleagues have created a T-shirt depicting Marjorie. The shirt is available for purchase by diabetics and non-diabetics alike to raise awareness of diabetes, honor Marjorie’s memory, and fund support for diabetics.

The shirt has a universal appeal—it doesn’t spell out diabetes or call attention to an organization, but can still act as a good conversation piece. “I think the subtlety of the Marjorie shirt is empowering. At the same time, it’s all about diabetes—the blue circle (our international symbol) is Marjorie’s collar. She’s got a little vial of insulin hanging off her collar. I think people will say, ‘Hey, that’s a cool shirt,’ and want one too.”

Jessica and her team hope to sell 10,000 shirts in October 2014. She invites all purchasers to wear their shirts and post a picture of themselves wearing the shirt on social media with the hashtag #honormarjorie. She invites all to include a description about their personal experiences with diabetes and their respect for Marjorie. “When people see the Marjorie shirt, I hope they feel gratitude, pride in themselves and in our community, and happiness.” You can purchase child- and adult-sized Marjorie shirts from this web page.

Jessica stresses the importance of this fundraiser in building social diabetic support: “Support is one of the things that readers get from A Sweet Life. People with diabetes need resources, information, and community to get through every prick and bolus. We learn from each other and we succeed together.”

To learn more about support for people with diabetes:

Find Support Online
The Benefits of a Support System
"I Feel So Alone Dealing with Diabetes"