Penn Transplant Institute

Pancreas Transplant Process

Pancreas transplantation is the most complete treatment currently available to maintain blood sugar control for patients with type 1 diabetes. Islet cell transplantation is an experimental procedure that involves transplanting islets cells from a donor pancreas into the liver of a patient with type 1 diabetes.

There are four major stages in the transplant process at Penn Medicine.

Once identified as pancreas or islet cell transplant candidates, patients undergo an extensive evaluation to determine if transplant is the best treatment option. The decision to proceed with a transplant represents a strong commitment to self-care and medical follow-up, so the ultimate decision rests with the patients. Only they can evaluate their quality of life and determine whether or not a transplant is worth pursuing.

Those patients who decide to pursue a transplant are placed on the waiting list. Being "placed on the list" means their names and certain medical information are entered into the national database overseen by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). 

Most of the pancreas transplant surgeries performed at Penn Medicine are simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplants. Many people with type 1 diabetics suffer from kidney failure as a result of their disease. In most cases, both organs are transplanted at the same time.

Islet cell transplantation is an experimental procedure that involves removing islet cells from a donor pancreas and transplanting them into the body of the recipient. There is no surgery involved in islet cell transplantation. Instead, a needle is placed directly into the liver through the skin and the islet cells are injected into the portal vein so that can begin to produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar without the need for extra insulin injections.

After leaving the hospital, patients are expected to return to the Penn Transplant Institute for ongoing therapy and medical care and are monitored for any signs of infection, rejection or medication side effects.