An implantable, bioartificial pancreas at the University of Arizona Health Sciences may soon provide a new treatment option for adults and children with Type 1 diabetes.

For the approximately 1.6 million people who live with Type 1 diabetes, insulin is a lifeline. Without it, the body can go into shock, resulting in organ damage, swelling in the brain and even death. Currently, the only way for a person with Type 1 diabetes to get this life-saving insulin is by regularly measuring their blood sugar levels with a self-administered blood test and then giving themselves necessary injections, or by using an insulin pump, an external device that delivers insulin as needed through a tube placed under the skin.

A UArizona Health Sciences research team led by Klearchos Papas, PhD, a professor at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, is closing in on a better solution. Dr. Papas is developing a tiny implantable device that mimics the normal function of the pancreas, the organ responsible for insulin production.

Dr. Papas’ solution comes in the form of an oxygen-enabled implantable pouch packed with islets that are separated and protected from the body’s immune system. The device differs from an insulin pump in that it will closely mimic a normal pancreas and offer more durable, timely and accurate glucose sensing and insulin.

“The beauty of our approach is that instead of having to inject yourself with insulin, you have cells producing it on demand and releasing it as needed,” said Dr. Papas. “You essentially replace the physiological function of insulin production as close to what you had with your original pancreas.”