UCLA is one of only a few programs in the world to offer autologous (auto) islet transplantation. This pioneering procedure offers patients a return to a life without the chronic pain of pancreatitis and without insulin dependence, in some cases.
Auto islet transplant returns a patient's insulin-producing islets after removal of all or part of the pancreas to treat pancreatitis. Auto islet transplant has no risk of rejection, because the islet cells are the patient's own.
What Are Islets?
The islets, also known as the islets of Langerhans, are small clusters of cells within the pancreas:
- The islets contain cells that produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body manage blood sugar. These cells also produce enzymes, which help the body digest food.
- A pancreatectomy (removal of the pancreas) typically removes the islets. The patient then cannot produce insulin and develops type 1 diabetes.
- By returning the islet cells, the patient's body can continue producing insulin, and the risk of diabetes is minimized or removed.
What Is Auto Islet Transplant?
Auto islet transplant is an innovative surgical procedure that relieves the pain of chronic pancreatitis by removing all or part of the pancreas. It also minimizes or eliminates the risk of diabetes that usually results from pancreatectomy.
The auto islet transplantation procedure generally follows several steps:
- The patient who has chronic pancreatitis completes a pre-surgical evaluation.
- The patient and surgery team choose a date for the operation.
- Surgeons remove the patient's pancreas (a frequent end-stage treatment to alleviate the pain of pancreatitis).
- UCLA teams isolate the islet cells from the pancreas and transplant them back into the patient's body, using a catheter inserted through a large vein into the liver.
- The islets continue to produce insulin.
- After recovering from surgery, the patient is free of the pain of chronic pancreatitis and, ideally, continues to produce insulin. That outcome eliminates the need for insulin injections - unlike pancreas removal without islet transplant.
Auto islet transplant recipients undergo an evaluation and approval process that reviews their chronic pain and chronic pancreatitis, as well as a general surgery evaluation. They do not need to be placed on a transplant waiting list.