Frequently asked questions

Why are islets transplanted to the liver instead of the pancreas?

Because of its anatomical position, the liver is easier to reach than the pancreas and also provides a better environment for the islets to grow. Once the islets are functioning, they can act as a back-up pancreas by regulating blood sugar and producing insulin.

What are the benefits of islet transplantation?

Islet transplantation is not a cure for Type 1 diabetes. It may, however, provide an improved quality of life for patients who become free from insulin injections. There may also be a reduced occurrence of diabetes-related complications. Some patients may have to resume insulin injections, but those who do are able to do so less frequently than they previously could.

What are the obstacles of islet transplantation?

The biggest problem for patients who have received islet transplantation is rejection. Immunosuppressive drugs must be taken for life to keep the immune system from destroying the transplanted islets.

Who is eligible to participate in the trials?

Islet transplants are still an experimental procedure, and therefore available only to people who meet certain requirements. At this time, only adults with extremely unmanageable glucose levels or hypoglycemic unawareness have been eligible. In addition to meeting criteria, the patient must also undergo a medical and psychological evaluation.

Participation typically requires that a patient applies for the trial, goes through an assessment and is then placed on a waiting list. The trial’s selection committee, which is made up of researchers and physicians, will ultimately decide who is eligible for inclusion in the trial.

What is involved in patient participation?

Patients who are interested in receiving islet transplantation sponsored by the VCU Medical Center should contact their physician to review the current protocol together. Currently, we are conducting only islet-after-kidney transplantation procedures.

The islet-after-kidney transplantation protocol involves individuals with Type 1 diabetes who have had a successful kidney transplant but poor glucose control.