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VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center introduces procedure to help chronic pancreatitis patients


By Leha Byrd
University Public Affairs

Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016

Marlon Levy, M.D.
Marlon Levy, M.D.

The Virginia Commonwealth University Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center is now offering a procedure that can provide relief from debilitating, chronic and painful pancreatitis while allowing patients to maintain good blood-sugar management.

Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that persists and worsens over time. It often develops in people between the ages of 30 and 40 and can be caused by many different conditions, including genetic (inherited) causes, gallstones and long-term alcohol use. Other causes include certain auto-immune conditions and cystic fibrosis, according to the National Institutes of Health. Removal of the pancreas is sometimes a patient’s best hope for relief, but in doing so the body’s ability to produce insulin and regulate blood sugar is also removed.

The Hume-Lee Transplant Center now offers a treatment called total pancreatectomy with islet cell auto-transplantation that involves removing a patient’s diseased pancreas, extracting its islet cell clusters (cells that produce insulin) and placing them inside the patient’s own liver, which then begins to produce insulin. This procedure also allows the patient to avoid being placed on the transplant waiting list and having to take anti-rejection medications for the remainder of their life.

The surgery takes around 10 hours and includes a hospital stay of eight to 10 days. The long-term results, however, far outweigh the laboriousness of the procedure, providers said.

“Total pancreatectomy with islet auto-transplantation offers dramatic improvement in quality of life and freedom from debilitating pain, while preserving good blood-sugar control. It’s a breakthrough in the treatment of an otherwise very painful, intractable disease,” said Marlon Levy, M.D., chair of the Division of Transplant Surgery and director of the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center.

Levy has a long career performing the islet cell auto-transplantation procedure prior to joining VCU Health, which includes serving as medical director of the Islet Cell Transplant Program for Baylor Health Care System. Now, he is primed to offer the procedure at VCU Hume-Lee Transplant Center, which will be the only medical center in the Richmond metro area that offers this treatment.

Hume-Lee also has a dedicated islet cell laboratory, led by assistant medical director Mazhar Kanak, Ph.D., which enables the transplant center to perform this advanced procedure and provide needed relief to area residents who are living with chronic pancreatitis.

As part of a patient’s experience before and after the procedure, Hume-Lee provides an integrated care team that includes a wide range of transplant-related experts and physicians such as gastroenterologists, transplant endocrinologists, interventional radiologists, nurse coordinators and dietitians. “Hume-Lee is ready and excited to offer this procedure and provide relief to those who may be struggling with this disease,” Levy said.

For more information about pancreatic islet cell auto-transplantation, call 804-828-4104.


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