Auto islet transplantation offers hope for patients with chronic pancreatitis.
For seven years, Tammie Feldman lived a life she described as “a tortured cycle” in and out of the hospital, in constant, intolerable pain. “Pancreatitis changes every aspect of your life and the lives of those you love. It is a horrible and depressing existence and I can tell you it completely changes your world. You spend every moment in the fetal position praying for your pain to end,” says Tammie, mother of two from Long Island.
She traveled far and wide in search of help, to no avail – until she met Dr. Beth Schrope at the Pancreas Center.
Dr. Schrope was able to offer an option that no other center could: pancreatectomy with auto islet transplantation. The procedure combines two parts: pancreatectomy, or removal of the pancreas, to end the pain caused by pancreatitis, plus autologous islet cell transplantation to prevent diabetes.
Pancreatectomy entails removal of the pancreas, spleen, the duodenum, part of the stomach, and redirection of the digestive system. This relieves the pain in 90% of patients with pancreatitis, but leaves them without the ability to produce insulin, causing a difficult-to-treat form of Type 1 diabetes known as “brittle diabetes.” Islet transplant surgery attempts to prevent diabetes by reintroducing the patient’s own islet cells so they will, with luck, continue to produce insulin.
As Dr. Schrope explains, “Islet cells in the pancreas produce insulin. When the pancreas is removed, patients become seseverely diabetic. Through years of research, we have developed an effective procedure to extract the islet cells from the pancreas, process them in the laboratory, and reinfuse them into the liver. Once in the liver, they may resume functioning and produce insulin, potentially sparing the patient from that severe form of diabetes.”
Studies show that about one third of patients require no insulin therapy after autologous islet transplantation, another third require some insulin therapy after the procedure, and the procedure is unsuccessful in preventing diabetes in the remaining third. “Returning to normal activities and living without pain is a tremendous improvement in patients’ quality of life. Now with islet transplantation, there’s an added bonus—the possible prevention of diabetes,” says Dr. Schrope.
In Tammie’s case, the procedure worked very well. Not only did the surgery relieve her excruciating pain, but the islet cells began functioning as hoped, and she is now completely free of insulin supplements.
With tremendous gratitude to Dr. Schrope and her team, Tammie says, “I am pain free, diabetes free, and loving my new body! I am finally enjoying my family and loving being at home. I will forever be grateful for the gift you gave to me and my family.”