Most people, at least outside of science circles, have never heard of Dr. Taylor Wang, an innovator and the founder of a company called Encapsulife. That may be about to change. According to a recent story in National Review, a device the company has just patented, known broadly as the “Wang Patch,” may provide an effective cure for diabetes, which would create a huge market for an implantable medical device that would alleviate the suffering of millions of Americans and wipe out hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs.
The Wang Patch was developed as a result of a NASA experiment on a space shuttle flight in 1985 delving into a process called “encapsulation.” The experiment had nothing to do with any kind of medical application, not to mention a cure for a common disease. But almost 20 years later, Wang was able to partner with medical researchers and develop the patch.
The way the Wang Patch works is that it contains cells called islets that convert blood glucose into insulin. People with diabetes are unable to process blood glucose properly, hence the need to take insulin, adhere to special diets, and check blood glucose levels periodically.
Attempts to augment the pancreas of a diabetes sufferer by implanting new islets have always been defeated by the body’s own immune system that attacked them as a foreign threat. The Wang Patch solves this problem by admitting blood glucose for processing but keeping out white blood cells and other immune factors. The patch would be implanted under the skin. It has already succeeded in primate studies and will be going to human trials shortly.
If the Wang Patch succeeds in human trials and is approved by the FDA, it will be one of those innovations that causes creative destruction, in this case a whole swath of the health care industry. Everyone from insulin producers to diet book publishers will find their market collapsed in almost short order, much like iron lung makers went out of business thanks to the polio vaccine. But that is something that innovation often does, wiping out the old world and replacing it with something new.
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