Definition

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.

The Pancreas

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Reasons for Procedure

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.

Possible Complications

If you are planning to have a transplant, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Toxicity from immunosuppressive agents
  • Injury to the liver or the pancreas
  • Cholesterol problems
  • Sensitization—The recipient may form antibodies to future islet cells for repeat transplant.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Worsening of kidney function
  • Worsening of high blood pressure

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Bleeding disorders

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

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.

Anesthesia

Local or general anesthesia may be used. Local will numb the area. You will be asleep with general anesthesia.

Description of Procedure

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.

Immediately After Procedure

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.

How Long Will It Take?

About one hour

How Much Will It Hurt?

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.

Average Hospital Stay

3-4 days

Post-procedure Care

  • Keep the incision wound clean.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions about wound care.
  • Check your blood glucose frequently. Follow your doctor’s instructions.
  • Closely control blood sugar levels with insulin.

Your doctor may repeat the process several times to transfer more islet cells.

Call Your Doctor

After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision site
  • Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe nausea or vomiting
  • High or low blood glucose levels
In case of emergency, CALL 911.