Pancreas transplantation is a therapeutic option for patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus that have developed significant complications of diabetes such as:
- nephropathy (kidney disease)
- retinopathy (retinal disease)
- neuropathy (nerve problems)
- hypoglycemic unawareness (inability to sense when blood glucose is low). Hypoglycemic unawareness can be a life-threatening condition because patients may experience car accidents or other problems because they do not realize that their blood sugar is too low.
A pancreas transplant is a surgical procedure performed to give a patient with type 1 diabetes mellitus a healthy pancreas from a deceased organ donor. The diseased pancreas is left in place during the transplant procedure because even though it no longer produces insulin, it does still produce enzymes needed to digest the food you eat. The transplanted pancreas is placed in the lower abdomen on the front side of the body. When the transplanted pancreas functions well, patients are able to stop insulin injections immediately after transplant.
There are several types of pancreas transplant that can occur:
- Simultaneous pancreas kidney transplant is performed in patients who also need a kidney transplant due to kidney failure from diabetes. The transplant is performed using organs from a single donor.
- Pancreas after kidney transplant is performed in patients who have already had a kidney transplant (usually from a living donor). The pancreas transplant usually occurs at least 6 months after the kidney transplant was performed, and the patient then has organs from 2 separate donors.
- Pancreas transplant alone is performed in patients who do not have kidney disease from their diabetes, but they do have other diabetes complications such as eye or nerve damage and hypoglycemic unawareness.