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Research on insulin pens

Dr Sheila Reith

Glass syringes, steel needles, drawing insulin up from a vial - that’s what injecting insulin looked like in the 1970s. 

With a young daughter with type 1 diabetes, Dr Sheila Reith understood the difficulties of injecting insulin and wanted to make it easier.

She teamed up with Dr John Ireland and Dr John Paton to develop a prototype insulin pen, which would inject insulin with the push of a button.   

We funded the first insulin pen

We funded 100 pens, 5,000 insulin cartridges and supported a trial to get feedback from people with diabetes on the device.

By 1983, the world’s first insulin pen – Penject – became available.    

It has since inspired new and improved insulin pens, making life easier for the millions of people who take insulin.   

Dr Sheila Reith CBE, co-inventor of the insulin pen, said:

“I remember finding myself in the toilets at Euston station trying to give my daughter her insulin injection from a glass bottle and steel syringe. It was such a palaver. I said to myself, this is absurd! We must make this easier for people.”

Pete Davies was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1956, when he was two years old. He said: 

“Sixty years ago, we were using glass syringes with big, long needles until they were blunt and painful. The insulin pen was one of the best changes for me, it meant no more boiling up needles to sterilise them after more than 30 years!   

“Now I use a hybrid closed-loop system. The advances in equipment and technology have been life-changing. I think it's incredibly important to celebrate the research that made it possible.”

Watch Pete look back on how life with type 1 diabetes has changed and tech has evolved over the past 65 years.

Looking to the future

Since the insulin pen, we've carried on backing innovative ideas – like the artificial pancreas – pushing the boundaries of insulin treatment even further.  

And today, our research is ensuring advances benefit even more people. Professor May Ng is leading vital research to find and address unfair inequalities that exist in access to diabetes technology, so everyone can get the tools they need to live well with diabetes.    

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