January 8, 2010
Question from West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA:
My son has been asking me a lot about how likely they will find a cure for type 1 diabetes or better technology. And, unfortunately, I don't have really any idea where the progress is being made in treating type 1 diabetes. I have been googling insulin pump technology and I came across the University of Illinois where, in 2001, they were working on an implantable insulin pump with a "capsule" that produces insulin indefinitely. I can't find any more information on it past 2001. Is this technology still being pursued? Is this is a realistic technology? Do you have a general idea where the technology over the next few years is going?
Research into implanted capsules containing islet cells to produce insulin has been underway for many, many years — if not decades. Today, several groups of researchers continue this work.
The islets could be human or animal (typically from specially bred pigs). The challenge has always been (a) ensuring that the implanted device has sufficient vascularization to provide the islets with nutrition and oxygen and (b) ensuring that the body’s immune system doesn’t attack the islets and destroy them — the hallmark of type 1 diabetes. Several strategies for achieving these two goals are in various stages of trial.
For more information, see our page on Research into a Cure and the web page on The JDRF Artificial Pancreas Project.