Islet Cell Transplantation Benefits and Risks

What are the benefits of islet cell transplantation?


About 80 percent of patients who receive an islet cell transplant have been able to stop taking insulin injections completely. Even if patients were not able to completely stop taking insulin injections, many are expected to benefit from improved glucose control after transplantation and may regain their ability to sense low blood sugar levels.


The duration of insulin independence after islet transplant is unknown. Currently, the longest period of insulin independence after an islet cell transplant is four years. Because islet cell transplantation is still investigational, the precise benefits to patients are not known.


What are the risks associated with islet cell transplantation?


All transplant patients are at risk of rejection of the islet cells. The immune system is the protector of the body from "foreign" invaders such as bacteria, viruses and even the transplanted islet cells. As a result, the immune system will try to reject the islet cells. To prevent rejection, the patient is given immunosuppressive medications that "suppress" the immune system's ability to destroy the transplanted islet cells. However, taking immunosuppressive medications exposes the body to some risks, including an increased risk of infection and certain types of cancer. These medications can also be associated with unpleasant or medically important side effects.


Some important risks of the islet transplant procedure itself include bleeding in and around the liver, clotting of the liver vein, infection in the liver vein and worsening liver function.