A pancreas transplant is a surgery to implant a healthy pancreas from a donor into a person whose pancreas is not functioning properly. Normally, the pancreas releases insulin to help the body store and use the sugar and fat from the food we eat. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces less or no insulin. There is no definitive cure for diabetes except lifestyle medications, lifelong medications and insulin injections.
Pancreatic transplantation is the only available cure for diabetes in appropriately selected patients. Pancreas transplantation adds significant survival benefit to diabetic patients who otherwise face a life expectancy that is one-third of the normal.
There seems to be a significant survival advantage when this transplant is done pre-emptively, when the first signs of the end organ damage from diabetes is evident, rather than waiting till organ dysfunction. Pancreas transplant may be worth considering for Type 1 diabetics and also for Type 2 diabetics, under certain specific medical situations.
Types of Pancreatic transplant
Severe Type 1 diabetes is often associated with chronic kidney failure. As a result, a person who needs a pancreas transplant may also need a kidney transplant.
Pancreas transplantation is carried out in three forms:
- Simultaneous Pancreas- Kidney Transplantation: Meant for a diabetic patient on or approaching dialysis.
- Pancreas transplant after kidney transplant: Meant for diabetic patients who have had a successful kidney transplant but have ongoing complications from diabetes.
- Pancreas Transplant alone: Meant to benefit patients with diabetic complications, but who have adequate kidney function.
Evaluation for a Pancreas transplant
The multidisciplinary team evaluates the patient for a pancreas transplant.
If suitable, the patient is placed on a waiting list. The person's health condition and suitability for major surgery are taken into account. Pancreas transplants are not performed on people with advanced cancer, chronic infections like TB, or very severe heart, lung or liver disease.
Pancreas Transplant Surgery
During the surgery, the donated pancreas is transplanted into the recipient at the earliest, post harvesting. The patient's own pancreas is not removed during a pancreas transplant while the donated pancreas is 'added' to the recipient.
Patients typically return to their work, social and familial lives following a successful Pancreas transplantation with proper medication and regular checkups.
Diabetes cure rate is 80% at 10-years and the chances of a diabetic being alive at 25 years after a simultaneous kidney pancreas transplant is 70% versus 27% in case of a kidney transplant alone. Not so long ago, transplantation was considered a miracle of modern medicine. Today, these miracles are performed on a routine basis by world class hospitals with the right mix of talented teams and latest technology.