Beyond Banting tells the stories of diabetes research from a non-academic viewpoint
Krista Lamb is an author, audio storyteller and communications connaisseur. She hosts and produces numerous podcasts, including Diabetes Canada Podcast, From Beta Cells to Bicycles and the Actions on Diabetes Podcast. While she is fascinated by diabetes research, she dabbles in the communication of many science and health topics into a variety of mediums.
Her recently published book Beyond Banting: From insulin to islet transplants, decoding Canada’s diabetes research superstars was the winner of the SWCC 2021 General Public Book Award. The book dives deep into exciting innovations in diabetes research in Canada throughout history and the people behind them. Its release coincided with the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.
We chatted with Lamb about the writing process for Beyond Banting.
Can you tell us a little bit about what Beyond Banting is all about?
In 2017, I started interviewing diabetes researchers for the Diabetes Canada Podcast and was fascinated by the stories I heard. There is such a vibrant research community in Canada and I wanted to share that in a larger way. With the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin taking place in 2021, it felt like the perfect time to celebrate how much has happened in this field since Frederick Banting’s seminal discovery.
What in particular inspired you to write this book?
I am lucky to have a career where I am surrounded by scientists who are doing exceptional and often very interesting research. The work they do inspires me every day and I hoped to inspire others in that same way. In particular, I wanted young scientists or those considering a career in science to see the value their work has and the impact it can have on the lives of those living with a chronic disease like diabetes.
Where does your passion for diabetes research and treatment stem from?
While I don’t live with diabetes, so many of the people I care about do. Both of my grandmothers had type 2 diabetes, and I have many friends and colleagues with type 1 diabetes. It is an often-misunderstood condition and one that has many facets. Seeing the range of diabetes research being done—from looking at barriers and inequities in type 2 diabetes to islet transplants in type 1 diabetes—it felt like there were a million pieces in the puzzle and the process of putting it together was an intriguing one.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing this book?
Time! I was working against a deadline that was fixed in stone, as I wanted to have the book out for the 100th anniversary. I was also leaving a full-time role in science communications to start my own company, and then the pandemic hit. It definitely felt at times like I was pushing a boulder up a mountain, but I wanted to tell these stories and that kept me motivated to complete this project.
What was it like interviewing different leading experts and researchers on the topic?
I was lucky that the research community was open to this project and that I was able to get considerable time with people who are extremely busy. While I feel confident writing about this type of research, there is an intimidation factor when you are interviewing the person responsible for GLP-1agonists being available around the world or who pioneered in-human islet transplants. While everyone was understanding that I am a journalist and not a scientist, you still want to bring your A-game in these situations.
Were there any interviews in particular that changed the course of the book writing process?
Along the way, lots changed. In some cases, I went in thinking I would write about one facet of a research project and decided to go in a completely different direction after doing some interviews. There are interviews I did where as much as I wanted to include them, they just didn’t fit in the end. One of the best (and in some ways worst) parts of this process was when I would speak to someone and learn about an entirely different project and suddenly I needed to know more. I think that led to some amazing parts of the book, but sometimes it felt like the process could go on forever if I followed every thread.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
It was important to me that this book wasn’t just an overview of significant findings from Canadian diabetes research over the last 100 years. That book would be interesting, but I don’t know that future generations of scientists would see themselves in it. I wanted to write about a wide range of people doing incredible things and tell their stories in a way that inspires others to learn more. We have so much to be proud of in terms of our research community in this country. I hope people walk away from the book feeling that.
What key advice would you give to an aspiring writer, particularly someone interested in tackling a scientific or research-oriented topic?
Science can seem complex and overwhelming when you are coming at it as a writer and not a scientist. I learned very quickly that I needed to ask questions that made it clear I didn’t have the academic training of the other people in the room—but that this was OK, and welcomed. I see my role now as asking on behalf of the non-scientists who can benefit from this knowledge. People doing science want their stories told and if you can do it in a way that is both accurate and understandable, everyone benefits.
By: Cristina Sanza
Cristina Sanza is a Digital Journalism Instructor and Writing Coach in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. She also coordinates the Concordia Science Journalism Project team and the Projected Futures international science journalism graduate summer school. At the SWCC, she serves as the blog editor and digital media committee volunteer.