Navigate Up

UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
For Journalists
Senior Director
Telephone: 412-586-9777

Want to Make an Appointment or Need Patient Information?

Contact UPMC at
1-800-533-UPMC (8762).

Go to Find a Doctor to search for a UPMC doctor.​

UPMC Media Relations

UPMC Transplant Hospital in Sicily Performs Its First Pancreatic Islet Transplantation

PALERMO, Italy, March 20, 2012 – The Istituto Mediterraneo per i Trapianti e Terapie ad Alta Specializzazione (ISMETT), operated by UPMC  in Palermo,  Italy, performed its first pancreatic islet-cell transplant on a man suffering from type-1 diabetes to prevent serious complications from the disease. The Feb. 23 surgery was the first ever done in Sicily and one of the first in all of Italy.

Pancreatic islet cells are the cells that produce insulin. To perform a pancreatic islet cell transplantation, a team must extract the cells from the pancreas of a cadaveric donor using a special machine and purify them. Those cells are then infused into the recipient in a process similar to a blood transfusion: The islets are infused through a vein that carries blood to the liver to enable cell colonization in the patient’s organ.

Doctors say the benefits of such a transplant include avoidance of major surgery, such as a pancreas transplantation, less time spent recovering in a hospital, and a return to a good quality of life just days after the procedure. Doctors at ISMETT say the recipient of the surgery, a 57-year-old Sicilian man who had already undergone kidney transplantation, is in good condition and being strictly monitored.

“This first islet transplant is the result of six years of preparation,” said ISMETT director Bruno Gridelli, M.D. “We set up very sophisticated laboratories at ISMETT to allow the safest possible preparation of the cells to be transplanted. Together with the Ri.MED Foundation, we have given young Sicilian researchers the chance to go to the University of Pittsburgh and to the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami to learn the most advanced methods of pancreatic islet-cell isolation. With our interventional radiology techniques, the islets can then be transplanted into the liver.”

The entire process involved a multidisciplinary team, including ISMETT’s Radiology Unit and its Regenerative Medicine and Biomedical Technologies Unit, which is directed by Pier Giulio Conaldi, M.D., and coordinated by Anna Casu, M.D., a diabetologist and head of ISMETT’s Pancreatic Islet Transplantation Program.

Many of the researchers who participated in the procedure had spent time at UPMC, where they studied this new frontier of transplant medicine through funding from the Ri.MED Foundation. Pancreatic islet cell transplantation is considered experimental in the U.S., and the use of islet cells is regulated by the government. UPMC is seeking permission to perform similar transplants in Pittsburgh.

Islet transplantation is possible in large part thanks to a cell extraction and purification method invented in the late 1980s by Camillo Ricordi, M.D., and for whom the method of extracting islet cells is named. Dr. Ricordi is the director of the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami and has been president of ISMETT’s board of directors since 2004.

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |