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Note on Off the beaten path

Clinical science – sometimes it’s really slow

An article released in Science, one of the top three scientific journals, entitled “Microencapsulated Islets as Bioartificial Endocrine Pancreas” describes the encapsulation of insulin-producing islet cells in a protective semi-permeable poly-alginate film. The hypothesis that the capsule would protect the islets from immune destruction was supported by the normalization of blood glucose in mice with diabetes. The publication date? 1980. An article published today in Biomaterials discusses a new polyphenol coated capsule, again with some promising results in mice. Thirty-six years with little progress, and no successful human studies. The road from a well-thought hypothesis with preliminary support in animals to some type of success in humans can be long, tortuous, and sometimes a clear dead end. Yet other ideas come to the forefront, and we now have an FDA approved artificial pancreas that incorporates technologies only glimpsed in 1980; accurate continuous glucose monitors and mechanical insulin pumps. When betting on clinical science, it’s best to make sure that there is a diversified portfolio of ideas.

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