In the body, the pancreas functions as the organ that helps to create insulin, which allows your body to have balanced blood sugar levels. The need for a pancreas transplant can come up for various reasons such as someone not responding well to insulin, someone experiencing kidney failure, or patients that experience extreme complications balancing their glucose levels.
There are several different options for pancreas transplants in terms of the extent to which you must go to restore or improve your body’s ability to handle glucose. If a patient’s kidney is still functioning properly, a patient will only need the pancreas transplanted. A patient is likely to undergo a kidney and pancreas transplant when they are at a high risk of kidney damage, which is especially common in patients with diabetes. Two-thirds of pancreas transplants performed are in conjunction with a kidney transplant. On some occasions, some patients will receive a kidney donation before the pancreas transplant in the hopes that it will extend their time their bodies will be able to wait for a new pancreas, as it is a hard organ to find. The last type of pancreas transplant is actually a transplant of cells. Islet cells, which are cells that produce insulin, are taken from a deceased person’s pancreas, and are then injected into a patient’s bloodstream in order for them to eventually reach their kidney, helping the body to better handle glucose. This procedure, however, only takes place as part of medical trials, and is not yet an FDA approved form of treatment.
It is possible for a patient to receive a segment of a living pancreas as part of a donation, however, it is far more likely to receive a deceased donor’s pancreas. There is a 12-15 hour window to get the pancreas packed and to the recipient after the donor has passed. After receiving a pancreas transplant, patients spend, on average, around a week in the hospital. Patients are also placed on various medications which they will likely be on for the rest of their lives to help keep the donor organs functioning in the way they are intended to.
-Bri Loughridge, Alexander’s Hope Intern