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Prevent Diabetes after Pancreas Removal

If you suffer from chronic pancreatitis, a total pancreatectomy with auto islet cell transplant could minimize or even prevent the development of diabetes. MedStar Health is one of the only centers in the world offering this innovative procedure to patients throughout the country. 

Learn more about The Chronic Pancreatitis and Autologous Islet Cell Transplant Program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and the hope we bring to those suffering with the debilitating abdominal pain of chronic pancreatitis.

What is Auto Islet Cell Transplant?

After undergoing complete removal of the pancreas, called a total pancreatectomy, the islet cells that produce insulin are removed from the pancreas and infused back into your liver via the portal vein where they take hold and produce insulin. In some patients, the pancreas may be able to be removed with minimally invasive robot-assisted surgery. This requires much smaller incisions and can help with pain relief during recovery.

Here’s how:

When the pancreas is removed in the operating room, it’s immediately put on ice in a special preserving solution. Once prepared, it’s transported to our on-site islet cell lab. There, islet cell scientists work to separate the islet cells from the pancreas, a process that takes several hours.

While the islet cells are prepared in the lab, your surgeon will continue with the reconstructive phase of the surgery. The islets will then be brought back to the operating room while you are still asleep and infused directly into a vein that supplies the liver (the portal vein), where they can find a new place to situate themselves and begin to function and grow.


Who is a Candidate for Auto Islet Cell Transplant?

A candidate for the procedure will typically meet these criteria:

  • Severe, debilitating pain that is no longer controlled by medication and may be causing repeated hospitalizations to receive intravenous (IV) pain medication
  • All other treatment options are exhausted, including endoscopic procedures to treat the pancreatitis
  • The pancreas still has endocrine function

If you are not a candidate for an islet cell transplant for any reason, the MedStar Health team will identify the best course of treatment to help with symptoms.

What is the Recovery Process?

Islet cell transplant patients are usually in the intensive care unit (ICU) for two to four days after surgery and transplant, with a total hospital stay of seven to ten days, followed by several weeks of limited activity to recover at home.

After the pancreas is removed and the islet cells transplanted into the liver, your glucose levels are closely monitored. Within one to two weeks, the islet cells may begin producing insulin. For 30 to 40 percent of patients, no diabetes develops. Although about 60 to 70 percent will develop diabetes, it may be less severe than without an islet cell transplant. Keep in mind that chronic pancreatitis destroys islet cells, so that eventually all patients with chronic pancreatitis become diabetic, even if the pancreas is never removed.

Over 90 percent of patients also experience significant pain relief after the procedure.

Who Will Be Involved in My Care?

As part of the Pancreas and Liver Diseases program, our experienced team of experts come from many specialties, including gastroenterology, pain management, endocrinology, and nutrition.

This team is at the forefront of this procedure with extensive clinical experience, research involvement, and an understanding of the frustrations and difficulties those with chronic pancreatitis face. They provide compassionate care with access to the most up-to-date treatments.

Research & Clinical Trials

Research is a critical part of what we do at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. Learn more about our research on treating and managing advanced disease and transplantation surgery.

Islet Cell Transplant Specialists

Meet Dr. Khan

Meet Dr. Khalid Khan, gastroenterologist and medical director of the Auto Islet Cell Transplant Program. In this video, Dr. Khan discusses a range of topics pertaining to the transplant process, including symptoms of chronic pancreatitis, life without a pancreas, and the advantages of our onsite laboratory to transplant success.