Banting museum uses augmented reality app to give insulin-discoverer more dimension

·3 min read

If you've ever wondered what life was like for the London doctor who came up with the life-saving treatment for diabetes, now's your chance to find out.

For the first time, the London museum that honours the legacy of Sir Frederick Banting is giving visitors a chance to experience moments in his life and career, including how he conceived the idea for insulin, through augmented reality (AR).

“With this experience, we're offering insights into Dr. Banting’s life and career,” said Grant Maltman, the curator at the Banting House National Historic Site.

Insulin is what made Banting famous, but visitors also can absorb another passion of his.

“He was a painter, and so you can actually get closer to Banting’s artwork through this app than you can in the museum because you can literally walk right up to it through your phone," said Maltman. In contrast, inside the museum "our volunteer guides will make sure you're back a few feet.”

With the help of AR technology, a computer-generated tool that turns real-world objects into an interactive experience, the outside of the museum comes alive to give visitors a closer look into the life of Banting.

How does it work?

After downloading the Engage ARt app on their phone, visitors head to the square outside the museum where they scan the statue of Banting and select an area to explore: The bedroom where he conceived the idea to treat diabetes, his painting career, his military medical research and his death.

In the bedroom, for example, visitors experience the very moment when Banting wrote his 25-word hypothesis that led to the breakthrough discovery of insulin.

“Dr. Banting is a story who’s well known, but really isn't known well,” Maltman said. “And so, this is another way for us to introduce these different aspects of his life and career.”

It was in 1921 at the University of Toronto that Banting and Charles Best conducted human trials of synthetic insulin, paving the way for one of the most important medical achievements in modern history.

Banting also served in both world wars and in 1919, a year after the First World War ended, was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the Cambrai offensive of 1918. Injured by shrapnel and ordered to evacuate, the London doctor instead stayed on the front lines for hours to help other soldiers.

A disease that affects more than 2.3 million Canadians, and hundreds of millions worldwide, diabetes occurs when the body's pancreas either can't produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar, or effectively use the insulin it does produce.

Diabetes can result in blindness, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke and limb amputations.

Before synthetic insulin, doctors could do little do to help diabetics. Banting's breakthrough and his work with Best and two others involved in the development of insulin forever changed that.

Banting shared the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1923 and in 1934 was knighted.

While diabetes now can be managed, there remains no cure for the disease, which Banting House recognizes with its outdoor Flame of Hope that it plans to keep burning until a cure is found.

The museum, which remains closed for personal visits, plans to keep its AR tour option going indefinitely.

“That’s the beauty of this app, (that) you can come on your mental health walk, or your 1,000 steps-in-the-day walk and experience (it) on your own time,” said Maltman.

“Our hope is that once you've seen what it's like virtually, you're going to want to come in and see it first-hand.”

cleon@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/CalviatLFPress

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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