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Vital Signs

Winter 2010

Auto Islet Transplantation May Help Some Patients


Surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas to relieve chronic pancreatitis provides pain relief, but it can spur development of another serious, long-term health problem: diabetes. UCLA pancreatic surgeon Howard Reber, M.D., chief of gastrointestinal surgery and director of the UCLA Center for Pancreatic Diseases, explains that if the entire pancreas is removed from previously nondiabetic patients, they will develop diabetes because the ability to produce insulin will be lost. If only part of the pancreas is removed and the patient’s islets (insulin-producing cells found in the pancreas) can be spared and replaced after surgery, diabetes may be avoided, he says. That is the goal of the Auto Islet Transplantation Program at UCLA.

“We’re basically taking something that would otherwise be discarded and trying to use it to prevent chronic disease 10 to 20 years down the line,” says Gerald Lipshutz, M.D., surgical director of the Pancreas Transplant Program at UCLA. In appropriate patients at UCLA, part of the diseased pancreas is removed by Dr. Reber, and the islet cells are then transported to a specialized facility at the University of California, San Francisco, for isolation, and within the same day, Dr. Lipshutz replaces the patient’s islet cells through a catheter inserted into his or her liver. While many programs across the U.S. can remove the pancreas, UCLA is one of only a few centers able to perform auto islet transplantation.

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