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What Is an Islet Cell Transplant?

Auto islet cells transplantation is an innovative treatment for carefully selected patients in pain from chronic pancreatitis. After undergoing complete removal of the pancreas and spleen, patients receive a transplant from their own islets, which include the cells that produce insulin. 

Patients who have undergone islet cell transplant have been able to relieve much or all of the pain they experienced with chronic pancreatitis and through the injection of islet cells, have avoided the diagnosis of diabetes. At Baylor Dallas, we actively perform islet cell transplants, in an effort to achieve across-the-board blood sugar control improvement.

About Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, and, in either case, it is inflammation of the pancreas. While acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and usually resolves with treatment in a few days, chronic pancreatitis does not resolve and usually gets worse over time, leading to permanent damage. Some causes can include use of alcohol, heredity, cystic fibrosis, high levels of calcium or fat in the blood, autoimmune conditions, some medicines and other unknown factors.

Islet Cell Transplant Process

After your doctor refers you to Baylor Dallas for an islet cell transplant, you'll be evaluated by one of the transplant surgeons through a variety of tests. Next, you'll meet with a pancreatologist or gastroenterologist for more diagnostic testing. Based on the results of both batteries of tests and the physician evaluations, the transplant team will determine if you are a candidate for transplant.

Recuperating After an Islet Cell Transplant

After surgery, your expected hospital stay is approximately seven to 10 days.   The transplant team will visit you in the ICU. Your family is welcome to visit you in the ICU. Once you are moved out of ICU, one individual – a family member, friend or other support person – may stay with you for emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days per week.  Depending on a patient's specific condition, the average length of stay in the ICU is 24 to 48 hours and then you are transferred to the floor where the focus will be on activity, nutrition and education. 

The transplant surgeon will typically see you at one week and three weeks after your discharge date, with future follow up visits being scheduled based on individual needs. A dietitian may also visit with you. Once it is deemed medically appropriate by the transplant surgeon, you will be released to return home to be seen by your primary care physician and endocrinologist.  If you are enrolled in a research study, you will be scheduled for follow-up visits according to the research study needs.    

Pancreas Removal and Diabetes

Prior to the surgery, you will meet with the surgeon, endocrinologist and transplant coordinator to review aspects of caring for and living with diabetes.  While the goal of auto islet cell transplantation is to prevent diabetes, all patients must still understand diabetes and how to live as a diabetic.  During your hospital stay, you will receive additional education with the diabetes educator on how to check your blood sugars and administer insulin. 

Based on research and experience, however, approximately 40 percent of post-transplant patients do not need to use insulin after the islet cells have had time to take hold in the liver and start working. The time period for the cells to start working can vary by patient. Another 40 percent of patients will still need to use some insulin but in lesser amounts and 20 percent of patients may be completely insulin dependent.

Does Insurance Cover the Cost of Islet Cell Transplants?

We have a financial coordinator who will help you and your family with financial related questions or concerns regarding your transplant coverage.

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