Islets being separated for transplantation

How It Works

Currently, islet cell transplantation is a two-step procedure that involves transplanting a islet cells from a donor’s pancreas into a diabetic patient’s liver. We are currently researching new steps to make this procedure safer and more effective.

Step 1: Isolation

Islets are insulin-producing cells found in the pancreas. They are taken for transplant from a donated pancreas. They are isolated from the other pancreatic tissue and put into an IV bag for transplantation.

Step 2: Transplantation

The actual transplantation procedure takes approximately one hour. A transplant begins with the patient awake but drowsy. A small catheter will be inserted through a tiny incision into the abdomen, which is numbed by a local anesthetic, for the infusion of the islets.

Using ultrasound technology to guide them, physicians specially trained in this procedure guide the catheter into the main portal vein, or blood vessel, in the liver. The transplant surgeon then begins to inject the islet cells into the portal vein of the liver. The transplanted islet cells lodge in blood vessels in the liver and begin producing and releasing insulin almost immediately. Patients generally leave the hospital in less than 24 hours after the transplant and are ready to resume their normal activities within a few days.

Much like any transplant procedure today, patients take prescribed immunosuppressant drugs without steroids to prevent their immune system from attacking the transplanted islets. The blood glucose levels improve dramatically in successful cases, with patients often achieving complete insulin-independence and normal glucose tolerance.

Depending on a number of factors, including the size of the patient, it can take two or three additional transplants before a patient can stop injecting insulin entirely.