Islet cells are the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Pancreatic islet cell transplantation is the transfer of islet cells from a donor to another person. The procedure is being studied as a method to treat chronic pancreatitis or type 1 diabetes.
Pancreatic islet cells are made up of alpha and beta cells. Type 1 diabetes develops when the beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed. They are destroyed by the body's own immune system. Without these cells, the body is unable to make insulin (needed to make glucose). As a result, people with type 1 diabetes need daily insulin injections.
Though still experimental, newly transplanted islet cells can produce insulin. After one to two islet cell infusions, some patients are able to stop taking insulin for a while.
If you are planning to have a transplant, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Your doctor will order blood tests. A physical exam will be done. These tests will assess the extent and severity of diabetic complications. This includes damage to the kidneys. The donor must also be carefully screened for blood and serum matching.
Local or general anesthesia may be used. Local will numb the area. You will be asleep with general anesthesia.
Before surgery, islet cells are removed from one or more donor pancreases. Usually, these cells are used within the next 24 hours.
A small incision will be made in the abdomen. A catheter (small plastic tube) will be placed through the incision and into a major blood vessel of the liver. An ultrasound will be used to locate the right position. Islets cells will be injected through the catheter. The cells travel through the vein and attach to the liver. There, they will begin making insulin.
It is important to maintain a normal blood glucose level. A high blood glucose could damage the new islet cells. Insulin will be given through an IV for the first several days. This will help keep your blood glucose levels down.
Your immune system will attack the transferred cells. To prevent this type of attack, called early acute rejection, you will be given medicines to suppress your immune system.
Similar medicines to suppress the immune system are usually needed for the rest of the person’s life to prevent rejection.
About one hour
The injection of local anesthetic may sting or burn. Anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. After the procedure, some patients experience pain or soreness for a few days. If you have discomfort, ask your doctor about pain medicine.
Your doctor may repeat the process several times to transfer more islet cells.
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
American College of Surgeons
American Diabetes Association
Canadian Diabetes Association
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
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Last reviewed November 2009 by B. Gabriel Smolarz, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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