1876 – 1935

John James Rickard Macleod was born in Perthshire, but moved with his family to Aberdeen when he was seven years old. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Aberdeen University, graduating with honourable distinction in 1898. As a postgraduate student he studied in Leipzig and Aberdeen before being appointed Professor of Physiology at Western University, Cleveland in 1903. An excellent teacher, he developed an interest in carbohydrate metabolism at an early stage in his career.

John James Rickard MacLeod

In 1918, JJR Macleod moved to Toronto as Professor of Physiology and it was in his laboratory there that insulin was discovered. Macleod was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize with Frederick G Banting but jealousies and resentment between members of the team meant Macleod’s reputation suffered. He did not defend himself and eventually in 1928 he retired from the Chair in Toronto to become Regius Professor of Physiology at Aberdeen.

Back in Aberdeen, Macleod also worked with John Boyd Orr at the Rowett Institute and it was Boyd Orr who said ‘Macleod was at his best in collaborative team work in which his junior colleagues supplied the technical tools to attack the problems formed by his brain.’ Banting and Best had done much of the practical work in the Toronto laboratory while Collip, the biochemist had purified the extract.

It was not until 1982 when a Canadian historian, Michael Bliss, published his book, “The Discovery of Insulin” that Macleod’s reputation was restored and he took his rightful place as co-discoverer of insulin with Banting, Best and Collip. The large lecture hall in the new science building in Toronto is named the J J R Macleod Auditorium.

100 Years of Insulin: The Aberdeen Story includes an excellent presentation by Dr Ken McHardy.