U.K. commemorative coin marks ‘Insulin 100’

Following in the footsteps of the Royal Canadian Mint, the British Royal Mint has issued a commemorative 50-pence coin marking the 100th anniversary of insulin’s discovery.

It marks the first time the historic medical breakthrough – discovered by a team of Canadian doctors – graces an official U.K. coin. Created by the Mexico-born, England-based artist Iris De La Torre, the contemporary design is an artistic interpretation of insulin’s structure alongside its molecular formula. It’s inspired by an image of human insulin crystals through a microscope and features a geometric pattern repeated with hexagons and circular shapes.

“Coins are pieces of art and maintainers of history and tradition, and so to see my design on an official U.K. coin that celebrates and raises awareness of such an important discovery is a dream come true,” said Torre. “I came up with a design inspired by images of an accurate segmentation of single-isolated human insulin crystals for in-situ microscopy that I found in a medical document online. The image shows segments of human insulin crystals in the form of hexagons. It is a beautiful image and inspired a pattern repeat which worked well on the ’50p’ coin.”

Iris De La Torre, the England-based artist who designed the insulin coin, looks on as she holds a freshly struck example.

Issued on Oct. 12, the U.K. insulin coin is available in Brilliant Uncirculated and precious metals, including proof gold, proof silver and proof silver piedfort formats. It’s the fifth release in the mint’s “Innovation in Science” series, which honours great scientific discoveries. It follows the series’ other commemorative coins recognizing the life and work of inventors Charles Babbage, John Logie Baird, Rosalind Franklin and Stephen Hawking.

The mint’s Divisional Director of Commemorative Coin Clare Maclennan called the coin “a beautiful piece of art” that “celebrates the importance of the groundbreaking discovery of insulin.”

“A landmark medical breakthrough of the 20th century, it has transformed the lives of people with diabetes for 100 years and is a fitting addition to our ‘Innovation in Science’ collectible series, marking the greatest scientific innovations and the remarkable people behind them.”

Professor Mirela Delibegovic, the director of the University of Aberdeen’s Cardiovascular and Diabetes Centre, consulted with the Royal Mint on the insulin coin project.

The U.K. insulin coin is available in a variety of precious metals, including proof gold (reverse shown).

“The insulin breakthrough is one of the most significant in medical sciences and was led by a team, which included University of Aberdeen graduate JJR MacLeod,” said Delibegovic. “We are delighted to see this legacy recognized on a U.K. coin. This beautiful design is a fitting tribute to the Toronto research team and for all the researchers who have followed in their footsteps by working on new ways to treat and manage diabetes.”


In 1921, the collaboration of Frederick Banting, Charles Best, James Collip and John Macleod led to the isolation and purification of insulin and offered a life-saving treatment to people whose lives would have previously been cut short by diabetes.

“The Nobel Prize-winning Canadian discovery of insulin in 1921 is one of the 20th century’s most celebrated medical discoveries, which has saved millions of lives in Canada and around the world,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who’s also currently serving as deputy prime minister. “Parliament passed legislation last month to establish a national framework on diabetes and we are delighted this commemorative coin will circulate from coast to coast to coast as a tribute to one of Canada’s greatest scientific triumphs, and as a reminder of the critical importance of the next century of diabetes research.”

This July, the Royal Canadian Mint commemorated the 100th anniversary of insulin’s discovery on coloured (shown) and uncoloured $2 circulation coins.

On July 13, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a $2 circulation coin marking insulin’s centennial. Designed by Ontario artist Jesse Koreck, the reverse of the coin features a monomer, a building block of the insulin molecule, as its focal point. Also displayed are scientific instruments used in the early formulation of insulin (vial, mortar and pestle, and Erlenmeyer flask) overlaid on a maple leaf, as well as red blood cells, glucose plus insulin molecules. The words “INSULIN/ INSULINE” appear on the coin’s outer ring, as do the double dates “1921” and “2021,” highlighting the anniversary.

The laboratory instruments represent the “tools of the trade” of the four researchers behind the discovery and application of insulin for human use:

  • Banting developed the theory that a pancreatic substance could be extracted as a possible treatment for diabetes and led the research;
  • Macleod provided a laboratory and equipment at the University of Toronto and assigned Best as a lab assistant; and
  • Collip, a biochemist, purified insulin extracts for use as an effective diabetes treatment.

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