Pancreatic islet cell transplantation

The Hume-Lee Transplant Center's pancreatic islet cell transplantation is the newest addition to its impeccable transplant services. The goal of this program is to achieve insulin independence or a significant decrease in insulin requirements to Type 1 diabetic patients.

Islet transplantation has been developed as a possible alternative to pancreas transplantation for people with Type 1 diabetes. The procedure is less costly, safer and less invasive than whole-pancreas transplantation. It is ideal for patients whose symptoms have not developed to advanced stages and also those for whom a whole-pancreas transplant may be too risky.

About islet cells

Islets are clusters of cells scattered throughout the pancreas that are able to sense sugar in the blood and release the correct amount of insulin to maintain normal sugar levels in the body. In a normal adult pancreas, the islets account for only one to three percent of the organ's tissue.

Beta cells are one of the four types of cells that are found in pancreatic islets. These cells produce insulin that would maintain the proper sugar levels in the blood. In people with diabetes, however, the beta cells are completely destroyed, and therefore, the body is no longer able to produce insulin on its own.

How it works

During the procedure, healthy islets are removed from a donor pancreas, purified and then transferred to a diabetic patient. The average person receives 1 million cells, which is equal to two donor organs. The beta cells in the implanted islets then begin to make and release insulin and replace the beta cells that have been mistakenly destroyed by the body in people with Type 1 diabetes.

Islet transplantation is a minor surgical procedure that takes approximately one hour. A patient receives local anesthesia, and the surgeon uses ultrasound to guide the placement of a small plastic tube (catheter) through the upper abdomen and into the liver. Islets are then injected into the liver through the catheter, where they will begin to function on their own.

After the procedure, the patient will be given immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection.

Goals and benefits

The goal of islet transplantation is to infuse enough islets into portal circulation of the liver to control the blood glucose level without extra insulin injections. Because good control of blood glucose can slow or prevent the progression of complications associated with diabetes, such as nerve or eye damage, a successful transplant may prevent and/or halt the progression of these complications.