Nanotechnology-based approaches hold substantial potential for improving the care of patients with diabetes. Nanoparticles are being developed as imaging contrast agents to assist in the early diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Glucose nanosensors are being incorporated in implantable devices that enable more accurate and patient-friendly real-time tracking of blood glucose levels, and are also providing the basis for glucose-responsive nanoparticles that better mimic the body's physiological needs for insulin. Finally, nanotechnology is being used in non-invasive approaches to insulin delivery and to engineer more effective vaccine, cell and gene therapies for type 1 diabetes. Here, we analyse the current state of these approaches and discuss key issues for their translation to clinical practice.