Diabetes remains one of the most widespread chronic diseases on the planet. Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks islets, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which helps to digest blood glucose that enters the body as part of food and drink. Type 2 diabetes occurs in adults who are obese and can often be treated with diet and exercise.
The type 1 version of the disease requires constant injections of insulin and monitoring of blood glucose. Roughly half of the people with type 2 diabetes also require insulin. The disease carries the risk of blindness, amputation, and premature death.
A medical device company called Encapsulife may have come upon a cure for diabetes. The company has created what is In effect an artificial pancreas that blocks out immune cells and allows the islets within to create insulin unmolested. The technology is based on experiments NASA conducted on encapsulation on the space shuttle in the mid-1980s.
The company envisions that the artificial pancreas, in the form of a polymer capsule, can be implanted in a diabetes patient with a 15-minute laparoscopic procedure. Since the device blocks the immune cells, it avoids the side-effects inherent with the need to use immune suppression medication with other artificial pancreases.
Tests on primates have proven to be very encouraging. Currently, a patent has been granted for the device. Encapsulife hopes to begin Phase 1 human trials shortly. If the device works in humans, it will prove to be a boon for 20 million Americans living with diabetes. The artificial pancreas could provide untold savings in the cost of health care by curing a disease that currently can only be managed.
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