Like many discoveries, the development of the first insulin pump was a combination of ingenuity and teamwork. In 1979, Yale doctors were conducting studies to figure out the best way to deliver insulin to children who suffer from diabetes. They discovered that giving small amounts continuously with larger doses at meals worked better than giving one large dose, because the smaller doses more closely resemble the way the pancreas produces insulin.
Unfortunately, there was no easy way to administer insulin in small doses in 1979. Around the same time, however, another Yale doctor was using a portable pump to help solve a different problem: delivering medicine to children who had a dangerous buildup of iron due to frequent blood transfusions.
Robert Sherwin, MD, and his colleagues recognized that this pump would be ideal for applying what they had learned about insulin delivery to their patients. The insulin pump was first tested in seven children with diabetes and the results were spectacular. The doctors stayed overnight in the hospital to monitor the results. When they began to see that blood sugar levels remained stable in their young patients, they knew that they had hit upon a novel and effective treatment for diabetes. The insulin pump, which today has evolved into a device the size of a beeper, continues to gain momentum; as of early 2019, 550,000 diabetic patients in the United States are using it, and its popularity continues to grow. Without volunteers like the children and their families who were willing to take a chance on an exciting new treatment, and the work of Sherwin and his colleagues, this groundbreaking discovery would not have been possible.