"Discovery in pharmaceuticals – like everything else – favors those who go searching in
the right places."
-- formerly on the website of Eli
Lilly and Company (largest manufacturer of insulin)
Sometimes good things have a long gestation
period. Insulin potentiation therapy (IPT) has been around for a long time.
First developed in 1928, its chief practitioners, three generations of the Drs. Donato
Perez Garcia, called it cellular therapy or Donatian
therapy or cellular therapy for the change of the physicochemical constants of
the blood. SGA, M.D. gave it the name
IPT in the 1970s or 1980s. A good brief history of IPT from a doctor's
point of view is at the beginning of Dr. SGA's first published
IPT paper. Dr. SGA has written another
unpublished history. I have drawn much material from these, as well as from documents,
emails, and conversations with Dr. Perez Garcia y Bellon 2
and Dr. Perez Garcia 3. I will make corrections and additions as they come
to my attention. This only a sketch, not a definitive history of IPT.
It was 1926, and insulin was hot new medical
technology. A Canadian, Frederick Grant
Banting, had discovered it at age 30 in 1921, and had received a Nobel Prize in 1923.
Diabetes had suddenly become a curable disease, and insulin was just starting as a
lucrative franchise for the Eli Lilly company. As so often happens at the beginning of an
era, there was a broader range of experimentation before concepts and rules gelled and
hardened. Although most of the attention was, of course, focused on the use of
insulin for diabetes, a few doctors explored other possibilities of this new drug.
Apparently one obscure application explored was the use of insulin for management of
Donato Perez Garcia,
MD 1 was then a young, 28-year-old military doctor in
Mexico City. He read about insulin, and was particularly interested in this obscure
application for malnutrition. He had suffered from a chronic gastrointestinal
condition for several years, and was below his ideal weight. So he decided to try
intravenously injecting himself with small amounts of insulin before each meal. He would become
very hungry, and would eat with gusto. After several weeks of this, his digestive
problems went away, and he gained weight to a more normal level. Discontinuing the
insulin, he continued in a good state of health.
Synthesizing his experience and the
scientific understanding of insulin to date, he theorized that the insulin had
accomplished two tasks:
1. By permeabilizing cell membranes, it had enhanced transport of nutrients through the
walls of the digestive system and into the tissues and cells of his body. And
2. It had profoundly altered the biochemical dynamics and terrain of all his cells and his
He wondered: If insulin enhances uptake
of nutrients, would it also enhance uptake of other substances, including drugs, for
improved treatment results?
In particular, he wondered if insulin could
help in treatment of syphilis. Like AIDS today, syphilis was the infectious
worldwide scourge of the time, terrorizing society and taking the lives of the poor and
the rich, the unknown and the famous. Antibiotics had not yet been discovered.
Using extremely toxic heavy metal drugs, mercury and arsenic salts, doctors could
often successfully treat the disease in its early stages. But there were serious
side effects, and the patents' health suffered. And when syphilis reached its final
or tertiary stage, entering the central nervous system (CNS), there was little the doctors
could do. They could not get enough drugs into the CNS without killing the patient.
Dr. Perez Garcia 1 theorized that insulin might help deliver these drugs better, and perhaps
in smaller doses.
As Banting did for the discovery of insulin,
Dr. Perez Garcia 1 tried his idea out first with dogs. In his experiment, he prepared one
group of dogs by injecting them intravenously with insulin. A second group of dogs
received no insulin. After the first group developed symptoms of hypoglycemia (low
blood sugar), he injected both groups with a mixture of mercury and arsenic salts in
hypertonic glucose (sugar) solution. He found that the mercury and arsenic
concentration in brain and spinal cord of the insulin treated animals was
approximately the same as it was in their blood. In the control animals, drug
concentration in brain and spinal cord was much less. Apparently the system of
insulin, hypoglycemia, and glucose had breached the blood-brain barrier, getting the drugs
for the first time into the normally inaccessible CNS.
Dr. Perez Garcia 1 then tried this protocol in human
syphilis patients in 1928 with amazing success. He could successfully treat an
otherwise incurable common disease. He found that he could actually use larger doses
of the toxic mercury and arsenic drugs, not only getting them into the CNS, but also
getting them out of the body afterwards. He also began to try this insulin
potentiation method for treatment of other diseases, again with remarkable success.
In all his work, Dr. Perez Garcia 1
was ahead of the
science of his time. His procedures were developed empirically. He followed
hunches, he found what worked, and he followed and extended it. He developed
theories based on what he saw in his patients. He thought that drugs were flushed
through membranes into the cells, perhaps adsorbed onto glucose molecules. He
thought that the hypoglycemic pulse somehow helped detoxify the body, and somehow
transformed the biochemistry to generally improve health. But it would not be until
the biochemical and molecular biological understandings of the 1970s and 1980s that some
of the mechanisms of insulin potentiation would be understood.
Things were going Donato's way. He was
at the top of his world and climbing. In 1930 his son Dr. Perez Garcia y Bellon 2
In 1935 he applied for a US patent for this method of
treating syphilis, and it was granted in 1939. And he published a report of
his work in dogs and humans in the June, 1938 edition of Revista Medica Militar (Mexico).
In 1935, Donato was invited by Harvard
University to discuss his technique and his results. In 1937 he was sent by the
Mexican government to San Antonio, Texas, for a year to demonstrate his technique. At
Austin State Hospital he demonstrated rapid and complete return to health in seven
patients with syphilitic paralysis and dementia. [ I have copies of the record
sheets and can add them to this site later.] During his year in San Antonio,
Dr. Perez Garcia 1 treated almost 600 cases of mostly syphilitic neurological disease. Just
before going to Washington DC to give further demonstrations, he was interviewed in San Antonio in June of 1938 by a reporter
for a Spanish language newspaper.
I do not know what happened in Washington. But apparently
Dr. Perez Garcia 1 did not make a
big enough impression to have any permanent results. In my imagination, he was like
a passing comet, citizen and embodiment and harbinger of a larger world, a future world,
noticed in its brilliance by a few, understood by fewer, and then quickly forgotten.
Dr. Perez Garcia 1
(right) with the director of
Austin State Hospital (late 1930s?)
Dr. Perez Garcia 1 mentioned the name Sakel in the
interview. Apparently someone by that name had claimed to have discovered insulin
potentiation. Interestingly, during this time, a group of doctors in the US,
networked by "snail" mail, a slow forerunner of today's Internet
listservers, explored other
nondiabetic uses of insulin (see Huggins 1977). They
were focused on local injection and topical application of insulin for treatment of
wounds and infections, and apparently they never came up with the efficient systemic
hypoglycemia protocol that Dr. Perez Garcia 1 developed. But it is clear that in those early
days, interest in nondiabetic uses for insulin was alive in scattered locations on the
Dr. Perez Garcia 1 began to use insulin potentiation to treat wealthy and
famous people (as well as many normal people) in Mexico, not only for syphilis, but also for such complaints as ulcers,
gallstones, and even appendicitis. Patients who had experienced great success
referred their friends to him, and his practice grew. He treated
movie stars, the director of the Mexican Ballet, a real Mayan princess,
Mexican presidents, other high government officials and their families, and people from all over the world who heard about him
and came to Mexico City.
I love the news photo above, which catches Dr. Perez Garcia 1 during this exciting period.
From left to right: (leftmost is unidentified); Pancho Segura, a
famous boxing manager; Dr. Bolanos Cacho, a well-known doctor who treated
many Mexican sports professionals; a laughing Dr. Perez Garcia 1;
and famous Mexican actor Palilli. Note the earnest gratitude in Palilli's
face. Dr. Perez Garcia 1 has just saved him from an otherwise incurable and fatal
disease (my guess is it was neurosyphilis).
Dr. Perez Garcia 1
(right) in San Diego, 1944, with Medical
of the San Diego Naval Hospital (left), and
General Felipe Rico, governor of Baja California
In 1939, the Mexican Secretary of Health signed a declaration
that Dr. Perez Garcia 1's therapy, based on results to date, was deserving of
further study. Perhaps encouraged by that recommendation, the Mexican Army established
that year an experimental clinic to investigate
the merits of IPT. The results in treating
syphilis and many other diseases were spectacular, as certified in a 1940 statement
signed by the Secretary for National Defense, and the Heads of the Technical and
Sanitary Sections of the Army. Read
this statement, in English.
Things were going incredibly
well for Dr. Perez Garcia 1.
On a visit to Tijuana and San Diego in spring of 1944, he successfully treated many
patients who had diseases ranging from syphilis to malaria. He even successfully
treated a general's wife's gall bladder disease. His trip was celebrated in a short article in Time Magazine, April 10, 1944.
Obscurity... and Productivity
|"By applying the hormone insulin in this way, making the radical and intense
changes of all the physico-chemical constants of the blood and, simultaneously,
permeabilizing all the cells of the organism, I have succeeded in making very rapid and
radical cures in cases of gonorrhea, general infections, etc., and also in neoplastic
--Brig. Gen. Donato Perez Garcia
In the 1930s and early 1940s, the national government of
Mexico was run by the military. This gave Dr. Perez Garcia 1 a lot of connections and
advantages. Riding high on his successes, he was favored to be the next Minister of
Health for Mexico. And if he had gotten that position, no doubt IPT would have
gained much more support at that time, and would probably be in much wider use
today. But the military lost the national election in 1944, and his hopes were
dashed. As I recall hearing, one of his medical school classmates got the job
instead, and later used his position to suppress and discredit Donato's work.
World War II came, and brought with it the
widespread use of penicillin (which was discovered in 1928, the same year he first
developed IPT). Suddenly Donato's syphilis treatments and patent were obsolete.
But his insulin protocol was still uniquely effective in treating other diseases.
And Donato found that it even delivered penicillin (and later, other antibiotics)
better, and made it more potent. In 1945 he demonstrated for the first time that IPT
could be used to treat cancer.
In 1947, Dr. Perez Garcia 1
made one more trip to
the US to demonstrate IPT and share it with the world. I have another article
from a San Antonio newspaper. Apparently, despite his unsurpassed medical results, Donato's technique did not catch
on. Was it because of his national origin? Was it because he could not give a
satisfactory scientific explanation of why it works? Was it because insulin was
already pigeonholed by doctors as a drug only for diabetes? Was it because it
offered no profit motive to pharmaceutical companies, and in fact could hurt short-term
profits by reducing the necessary dose? Were people just not ready for
Whatever the reason, Dr. Perez Garcia 1
Mexico City and continued to practice medicine out of his private clinic. Ignored in
the US, shunned as a quack in Mexico, he was nevertheless a quiet hero to his patients,
who brought him more referrals.