Cutting Edge Islet Cell Transplant Program Opens at MedStar Georgetown

The advanced technology and expertise to transplant human islet cells from a person's pancreas into their liver so the cells can grow and behave like a pancreas has come to the Washington, D.C. region.

November 20, 2014

In Patients with Severe Pancreatitis Cells Can be Transplanted into Liver to Regrow and Perform like a New Pancreas


(November 20, 2014 - Washington, D.C.)
- The advanced technology and expertise to transplant human islet cells from a person's pancreas into their liver so the cells can grow and behave like a pancreas has come to the Washington, D.C. region.

Cutting Edge Islet Cell Transplant Program Opens at MedStar GeorgetownThe procedure is used to treat people with debilitating chronic pancreatitis.

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital has officially opened its new islet cell transplantation laboratory, which is the only one of its kind in the metropolitan area and one of only a handful, nationwide.

MGUH-Islet-Cell-doctors-250"This procedure is called an autologous islet cell transplant and is used to help people with severe pancreatitis. Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas that can cause excruciating pain," says Chirag S. DeSai MD, transplant surgeon at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. "Without the pancreas, the body cannot produce insulin and so removing a diseased pancreas was often not an option because the patient would become an instant diabetic. However, by performing an autologous islet cell transplant—that is a transplant using a person's own cells- we can eliminate the cause of the pain and still maintain insulin production. The patient’s pain is relieved because the pancreas has been removed, and they do not become diabetic because their transplanted islet cells are producing insulin."

"Chronic pancreatitis from an unobstructed gland produces terrible pain that its sufferers will endure for the rest of their days," says MedStar Georgetown gastroenterologist Khalid M. Khan, MD. "They can't work; they frequently require disability and become dependent upon narcotics for pain relief. Within the field, it is well known that some patients – out of desperation – eventually contemplate suicide."The pancreas is a long, flat gland that sits in the upper abdomen behind the stomach. When the pancreas becomes inflamed it causes severe pain which can last for years.

The procedure involves the total removal of a patient's diseased pancreas followed by extraction and purification of islet cells in MedStar Georgetown's new islet cell laboratory, designed specifically for that purpose. Retrieved cells are then infused into the patient's liver through the portal vein where they ideally begin to produce insulin again on their own.

MGUH-Islet-Cell-image-250Uncommon and difficult to diagnose, pancreatitis often eludes detection by traditional means, such as MRI and blood tests. As a result, by the time some patients receive a definitive diagnosis, their condition is advanced, leaving them with few islet cells to isolate and transplant.

"If a patient complains of severe abdominal pain and tests are inconclusive, physicians should consider the possibility of chronic pancreatitis and refer him or her to MedStar Georgetown for specialty tests," says Dr. Khan. "Over the years, we have found that continuous glucose monitoring, which measures levels minute to minute, can reveal subtleties that other tests miss, especially if monitoring extends over several days. The earlier we can get an accurate diagnosis and perform islet cell transplant, the better."

The opening of Hospital's islet cell transplantation laboratory marks a significant milestone for the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. The laboratory has been years in the making, as MedStar Georgetown secured space for the lab, invested in specialty equipment and infrastructure, and recruited highly-regarded experts to staff the lab.

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