What is Islet Cell Transplantation?

Islet Cells
Islet cells are sugar-sensing cells found in the pancreas that release insulin. Insulin is a substance that maintains normal sugar levels in the body.
Islet Cell Transplantation
Islet cell transplantation involves removing islet cells from a donor pancreas and transplanting them into the body of the recipient. During islet cell transplantation, a needle is placed into the liver through the skin and the islet cells are injected into the portal (liver) vein. Alternatively, a minor surgical procedure might be performed.
The goal of this type of transplant is to inject enough islet cells into the patient so that they begin to produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar without the need for extra insulin injections.
Who should consider islet cell transplantation?
There are two groups of patients who should consider islet cell transplantation:
  • Patients with Type I diabetes who are considered "brittle" diabetics and have poor sugar control despite a course of intensive insulin therapy, or are unaware of the onset of low blood sugar levels
  • Patients with Type I diabetes who might require or already have received a kidney transplant

Autologous Islet Cell Program


UW Health is performing islet cell transplants through the Autologous Islet Cell Transplant Program. This program, primarily for patients with chronic pancreatitis, provides new hope for these patients. The procedure involves removing the patient's pancreas, removing the islet cells from the pancreas, and then infusing the islet cells back into the patient's liver. The patient's liver then takes over the function of the pancreas. This experimental procedure has been successful in patients.