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Total Pancreatectomy and Auto-Islet Transplantation

A total pancreatectomy followed by an auto-islet transplant is a treatment option for people with chronic pancreatitis (CP), or a long-standing inflammation of the pancreas.

This complex procedure is vital when severe pain affects quality of life and all other treatments have failed.

The total pancreatectomy — surgery to remove the entire pancreas gland — treats the pain that the pancreas causes.

However, removing the pancreas would lead to diabetes. An auto-islet transplant reduces this risk.

Chronic Pancreatitis Symptoms

The most common symptom of CP is severe pain in the abdomen that can spread to the back.

Other CP symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Pasty gray stool

What to Expect During an Auto-Islet Transplant Procedure

During an auto-islet transplant, the transplant surgeon frees up your own islet cells — cells that produce insulin — from the diseased pancreas and then returns them through a catheter into the liver.

This allows the cells to once again produce insulin.

The goal of an auto-islet transplant is to:

  • Decrease the likelihood of developing diabetes.
  • Reduce the severity of diabetes if it does develop.

The entire auto-islet transplant surgery takes about 8 to 10 hours.

Recovery time in the hospital is about 7 to 10 days.

Benefits of Auto-Islet Transplant

Unlike other types of transplants, there's no waiting list for an auto-islet transplant. Since transplant surgeons use your own islet cells, you do not need to wait for a donor organ or tissue.

Other benefits of an auto-islet transplant may include:

  • Avoiding a larger surgery later.
  • Recovering faster.
  • Returning to a good quality of life shortly after the transplant.

Who's a Candidate for an Auto-Islet Transplant?

In most cases, a gastroenterologist refers patients to the UPMC Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program. Early referral is crucial, in order to minimize the damage to the islet cells.

While you're here, you'll meet with members of the kidney/pancreas transplant team, including:

  • Transplant coordinator
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Auto-islet transplant surgeon
  • Endocrinology
  • Psychiatrist
  • Social Worker

We'll conduct a full evaluation to assess your quality of life before and after surgery.

During your evaluation, we'll perform tests and blood work to make sure an auto-islet transplant is right for you.

You'll also receive details about what to expect from your transplant, including recovery and ways to help you return to daily living.