For patients with type 1 diabetes, a pancreas transplant can mean a life free from testing blood sugar, taking insulin, and the constant threat of dangerous fluctuations in blood glucose. A relatively uncommon procedure, pancreatic transplant is reserved primarily for type 1 diabetics who cannot effectively control their diabetes through diet or insulin injections, or who have end stage kidney failure and require a kidney transplant. Patients with kidney failure may receive pancreatic transplantation, either simultaneously with the kidney or in a separate procedure following kidney transplantation.
Additionally, pancreas transplantation is beneficial for diabetics who no longer develop symptoms when their blood sugar gets too low. Under some circumstances pancreas transplantations may be utilized for type 2 diabetics as well.
Types of pancreas transplant surgery:
- Patients may receive both a pancreas and a kidney at the same time from the same deceased donor.
- Patients may first receive a kidney from a living donor, and then later have a pancreas transplant from a deceased donor.
- The small percentage of patients with hypoglycemic awareness who do not have any significant kidney injury may receive a pancreas transplant alone.
In the first option, if the patient’s body rejects the kidney, it will reject the pancreas at the same time. That is a small advantage because otherwise it’s hard to detect pancreas rejection, which is almost always treatable. This occurs in about 10 percent of patients.
The second option is preferable because kidney transplant results are significantly better when from a living donor. Also, it can take years to get a kidney from a deceased donor, while waiting times for a pancreas alone is much shorter.
Dr. Lloyd E. Ratner, Director of the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia Renal and Pancreatic Transplant Program, explains more about pancreas transplants in this video: