Pancreatic Islet Cell Autotransplantation

Drawing on its history as a center for excellence in pancreatic care, MUSC began to offer transplants of pancreatic islet cells in 2009 and now does as many as 50 or more a year.  MUSC can offer this islet autotransplantation in part because of its innovative Center for Cellular Therapy, what many refer to as a "clean lab," where researchers can isolate and process the islet cells so they can be infused into the liver.

While the technique previously has been used in a limited fashion since the 1970s, few facilities are capable of offering it, and none of the others have embraced the opportunities it presents for improving the lives of patients with chronic pancreatitis in the way that MUSC has.

What Is Pancreatic Islet Cell Autotransplantation? 

Removal of the pancreas can present life-changing challenges - the biggest being the loss of insulin produced by pancreatic islet cells to regulate blood sugar.  This can cause brittle diabetes with extremes in glucose levels that may come without warning and cause a variety of safety issues.

In hopes of lessening this impact, MUSC offers the option of transplanting islet cells from the patient's pancreas to the portal vein of the liver, where they can continue to live and function as they did in the pancreas (islet autotransplantation). Because the transplanted cells are the patient’s own, there is no risk of rejection.

What To Expect with an Islet Autotransplantation

The islet autotransplantation procedure does not require much extra time.  Once a patient's pancreas has been removed, the islet cell transplant typically occurs four hours later with the infusion of islet cells taking less than one hour.

Approximately 30 percent of those who undergo the procedure will become insulin independent, meaning they do not need to monitor their blood sugar levels or take insulin on a daily basis.  Others may require daily insulin and monitoring, but will not face the uncertainty and potential dangers of brittle diabetes.

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