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Rush Archives Blog

From the Rush Archives: Diabetes Awareness Month, Rush's R. T. Woodyatt, MD, and our Historic Diabetes Clinic

by Nathalie Wheaton on 2020-11-03T08:00:00-06:00 in History, Archives | Comments

-Post assisted by Rush Archives Work Study Student Kirsten Petrarca, Doctoral Student in Audiology, Rush University.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month.

After decades of scientific research into possible causes and treatments for diabetes, a diabetic patient received the first insulin injection in January 1922. Over the next ten years, the use of this life-saving treatment to control diabetes spread rapidly.

Before the introduction of insulin, there was little to temper the disease, although some physicians saw improvements for some patients by utilizing strict experimental diets. These diets were often a guessing game as physicians and researchers tried to adjust restrictions and eliminations for individual patients.

Description of Diabetes Clinic, Central Free Dispensary Report, 1916-1919Before the introduction of insulin, the Central Free Dispensary at Rush Medical College opened the Diabetes Clinic to address the lack of specialized care for people with diabetes in Chicago. The clinic featured a multi-disciplinary team composed of a physician, a dietitian, and a social worker. These professionals worked together to identify an appropriate diet for the patient and teach them how to procure and prepare specific foods.

CAPTION: A description of the Dispensary's Diabetes Clinic. From The Forty-Second Report of the Central Free Dispensary at Rush Medical College, 1916-1919. [1]

This Diabetes Clinic was led by Rollin T. Woodyatt, MD (1878-1953). After earning his medical degree from Rush Medical College in 1902, Woodyatt served his internship at Rush's teaching hospital, Presbyterian Hospital. He soon became interested in diabetes research. After completing his internship, he joined the hospital staff as Assistant in Medicine, later serving as Attending Physician. He also served as Clinical Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Rush Medical College.

Woodyatt in the 1902 Rush Medical College class composite photographAt the time of this 1916-1919 Report, the Central Free Dispensary noted that an estimated one percent of the population had diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 10.5% of Americans had diabetes in 2018. With the increase in known cases, Rush University Medical Center continues to support the care and well-being of people with diabetes: www.rush.edu/conditions/diabetes

CAPTION: Woodyatt in the 1902 Rush Medical College class composite photograph

Before insulin became available commercially, Woodyatt was one of the early specialists asked to develop insulin after its discovery by Canadians Charles H. Best and Frederick G. Banting. He worked to perfect insulin for patient use and began to produce it in his laboratory, becoming one of the first providers of insulin for Chicago diabetes patients.

His expertise in metabolic disorders led to him serving as a witness in Chicago's well-known trial of Leopold and Loeb. This 1924 trial of Richard Loeb and Nathan F. Leopold, Jr., for the kidnapping and murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks was daily news at the time. The defense held that Leopold and Loeb suffered from functional disorders of the endocrine glands, which affected their mentality. The defense was hoping this would lead to a lesser sentence for the two defendants.

A headline for August 15, 1924, for an article that covered Woodyatt's expert witness testimony in detail read:

Glands Have No Effect on Mind, Claim of State

Report on Disordered Endocrine System Challenged in Rebuttal

Testimony is Technical

Nothing in Findings Incompatible with Health, Says Defense.

"In scientific terms, [Woodyatt] described the various tests for determining the rate or degree of metabolism in a patient, referring to determining the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood, sugar in the system, acidosis, interspersing replies to hypothetical questions."

The article later reads:

"Clarence S. Darrow, chief of defense counsel, and Robert E. Crowe, the state's attorney, spent the period of Dr. Woodyatt's technical testimony seated next to each other chatting and smiling in friendly fashion, apparently having forgotten their clash of yesterday."

Helen Smith, lab technician, Woodyatt Clinic, Presbyterian Hospital, 1942Woodyatt's contributions to the field of diabetes and other metabolic disorders led to the development of the Woodyatt Laboratory (also known as the Woodyatt Clinic or Woodyatt Service) within Presbyterian Hospital. This metabolic lab was described in the November 1942 issue of The Bulletin of Presbyterian Hospital. [2]

CAPTION: "Samples of expired air are collected, and a Haldane gas analysis is done to determine its content of carbon dioxide and oxygen. From these data is determined the number of calories a patient expends per square meter in 24 hours during completed bed rest while fasting. This information, and a comparison with the normal make it possible to calculate the Basal Metabolic Rate." Lab technician, Helen Smith. [2]

"...Since 1909, when it began, well over one hundred original papers on various phases of metabolism have been published by Dr. Woodyatt and his associates. The metabolic research done in the laboratory was the first of its kind in the Middle West..."

"...The service embraces internal medicine, with particular attention to disorders of the metabolism. It follows the principle that a clinic should carry on three lines of activity — practice, teaching, and research — and should train in all three phases..."

CAPTION: "The technician collects the patient's expired air by means of the Tissot apparatus as the first step in a basal metabolism test. The air is breathed for eight to ten minutes into the spirometer, a tank in which the volume of exhaled air is measured." Lab technician: Helen Smith.

A memorial to Rollin T. Woodyatt, MD, in The Bulletin of Presbyterian Hospital newsletter, Spring 1954, covers his life and career. [3]

Woodyatt, a lifelong bachelor, was a nephew of famed Chicago architect and planner, Daniel Burnham. He died at 75 in 1953.

Learn more about the history of diabetes treatment, including the introduction of insulin, from the American Diabetes Association: [link] [4]

A partial list of some of Woodyatt's articles regarding diabetes and related research over his career provides an overview of the development of diabetes research over those decades:

Woodyatt, faculty, Rush Medical College class composite photograph, 19421910: "The Action of Glycol Aldehyd and Glycerin Aldehyd in Diabetes Mellitus and the Nature of Antiketogenesis," Journal of the American Medical Association, December 17, 1910, Vol. LV, pp. 2109-2112.

1911: "The Use of Blood Charcoal as a Clearing Agent for Urine Containing Glucose," Archives of Internal Medicine, May 1911, Vol. 7, pp. 598-601.

1913: "Studies on the Theory of Diabetes I: Sarcolactic Acid in Diabetic Muscle," Journal of Biological Chemistry, Vol. XIV, No. 5, June 1913.

1914: "Extra sugar during ether and nitrous oxide narcosis in fully phlorhizinized dogs: Sources of error in existing methods for the study of gluconeogenesis," Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 1914, Vol. xi, p. 157-159.

1914: "Blood Transfusion in Diabetes Mellitus," Journal of the American Medical Association, March 28, 1914, vol. LXII, pp. 996-999.

1914: :Studies on the theory of diabetes II: Glycid and acetole in the normal and phlorhizinized animal," Journal of Biological Chemistry, vol. XVI, no. 4, January 1914.

1915: "Prolonged and Accurately Timed Intravenous Injections of Sugar," Journal of the American Medical Association, December 11, 1915, Vol. LXV, pp. 2067-207.

1921: "Objects and Method of Diet Adjustment in Diabetes," Archives of Internal Medicine, August 1921, Vol. 28, pp. 125-141.

1927: "Clinic on Diabetes," the Journal-Lancet, January 15, 1927.

1937: "The Prevention of Diabetic Coma," Medical Clinics of North America, January 1937.

1941: "On the Theory of Diabetes," Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, 1941.

1942: "Anticipation in the Inheritance of Diabetes," Journal of the American Medical Association, October 24, 1942, vol. 120, pp. 602-605.

CAPTION: Woodyatt as a Rush Medical College faculty member in the final class composite photograph of the school before its closure, 1942.

Want to learn more about the history of Rush or the Rush Archives collections? Explore the Rush Archives website, or contact the archivist, Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS. Follow us on Twitter! @RushArchives

All documents and photographs belong to the records collections of Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill. Contact the archivist for permissions and full citations.

[1] archive.org/details/centralfreedisp191619rush/page/18/mode/2up

[2] archive.org/details/bulletin34pres/page/n33/mode/2up

[3] archive.org/details/bulletin46pres/page/n13/mode/2up

[4] www.diabetes.org/blog/history-wonderful-thing-we-call-insulin


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