Research has shown that clusters of cells called islets (also called islets of Langerhans) from a donor pancreas can be transferred into the liver of a person with diabetes. Once implanted, the beta cells in the islet will begin to make and release insulin. This procedure could mean patients with type 1 diabetes could live without daily insulin shots. In effect, the islet transplant would cure the person of diabetes.

The Diabetes Research Center at Ohio State received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) to initiate human islet transplantation at the OSU Wexner Medical Center. We have recruited additional faculty for both basic and translational research in Islet Cell Transplantation, which will complement our successful Pancreas Transplantation Program

The objectives of Ohio State’s Islet Cell Transplant Program (ICTP) are to develop new innovative therapies to ensure prolongation and preservation of islet cell function in humans by immunoprotection as well as promote islet cell growth and anti-apoptosis (prevent cell death). Our diverse ICTP team includes clinical and basic scientists, diabetologists, immunologists, transplant surgeons as well as industry partnerships to advance the course of our diabetes program and to expedite the implementation and translation of the research findings to the care of patients with diabetes.

More about islet cell transplantation research at Ohio State

What is islet cell transplantation?

In type 1 diabetes, the beta cells found in the islet cells of the pancreas no longer make insulin. That’s why diabetics have to take insulin injections to help the body use glucose for energy. Researchers believe that transferring working cells from an organ donor into the body of another person will help people with type 1 diabetes live without daily insulin injections.

What’s the difference between an islet cell transplant and pancreas transplant?

Even though pancreas transplantation has been shown to be successful, it is a major operation with significant risks and complications. Also, only a small number of diabetic patients are candidates for pancreas transplantation. Islet cell transplantation is in many ways less complicated and may be available to a larger group of diabetic patients.

Will I be insulin-free after the transplant?

It may take up to two months after the transplant to be free from insulin injections. If insulin is still needed to maintain normal glucose levels, your physicians will discuss a second islet cell transplant with you and your family.

What other benefits are there?

Islet cell transplantation is expected to reduce life-threatening hypoglycemic episodes and may also decrease the development of diabetes-related complications. Even patients who don’t achieve or maintain insulin independence may reduce their insulin needs and reduce or eliminate hypoglycemic events as well.

Are there risks to having this transplant?

The procedure itself may cause mild bleeding or blood clots. Risks associated with anesthesia are often dependent upon your age, wellness state prior to the procedure, and the type of anesthetic used. Medicines are taken to prevent rejection after the transplant and have various side effects including mouth sores, gastric irritation, anemia and hypertension. These drugs may also reduce white blood cells, which can lower the ability to fight off infections and may increase the risk of cancer. Each person reacts differently to surgery, anesthetics and immunosuppressive medications. All benefits and risks will be discussed in detail by the physicians with you and your family.

Who qualifies for an islet cell transplant?

Patients with type 1 diabetes and significant hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic events are being considered for this procedure. Patients with type 1 diabetes who have previously received a kidney transplant may also qualify.

Why is this considered a study?

Human islet cell transplantation is already proving to change patients’ lives with type 1 diabetes. However, government agencies still consider this procedure to be a study until more long-term data show success in both islet cell performance and patient survival.

How will the islet cell transplant be paid for?

Prior approval from your insurance carrier will be sought. The cost of medication, islet transplant, laboratory and screening studies, and follow-up visits will be billed to your insurance company as with any other organ transplant.

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