What is Pancreas Transplant?
Pancreatic transplantation is a surgical procedure in which a healthy donor pancreas, usually from a brain dead donor, is implanted into a patient whose pancreas fails. This is usually a type I diabetic patient (as well as highly selected type 2 diabetics) whose pancreas fails to produce the required insulin. This is a specialized procedure and is performed by a pancreatic transplant surgeon.
Once the pancreas is removed from the donor it is kept viable by cooling it and preserving in ice cold preservative solution. It can be preserved only for a few hours after it is removed from the donor. In addition, the donor’s blood type must be compatible with the patient receiving the organ so that the body has a better chance of accepting the organ.
During a pancreatic transplant, the native pancreas is not removed during the operation. This is because it is still capable of making the essential digestive enzymes needed during the digestion of food. Instead, the donor pancreas is placed below the diseased pancreas and is attached to the patient’s blood vessels.
What are the types of Pancreatic Transplants?
There are three types of pancreatic transplant options:
- Combined Pancreas Kidney Transplant or Simultaneous Pancreas Kidney (SPK) Transplant: As stated earlier, sometimes a kidney transplant is required for those suffering from type I diabetes as well as renal failure. Often, the pancreas and kidney will come from the same donor and be transplanted at the same time.
- Pancreas after Kidney (PAK) Transplant: .In this case, kidney transplantation is done first, either from a living donor or a deceased (cadaver) donor. Pancreas transplantation is done after some time in a kidney recipient with a functioning kidney graft.
- Pancreas Transplant Alone (PTA): Pancreas transplants that do not require kidney transplants are for those who have severe type I diabetes (episodes of hypoglycemia. hypoglycemic unawareness, ketoacidosis) but are not having kidney failure. This procedure is also done in patients who undergo total pancreatectomy.
What are the advantages of a Pancreatic Transplants?
There is much to be gained from receiving a healthy pancreas, especially if you are suffering from extreme renal disease:
- With a healthy pancreas, you may no longer require insulin injections that result from your type I diabetes.
- Many of your type I diabetes symptoms may lessen or go away altogether with the presence of a healthy pancreas that is functioning as it was meant to.
- A healthy pancreas will prevent further damage to your already unhealthy kidneys or work well with the new kidney you receive, should you require a kidney transplant as well. Other complications of severe diabetes (end organ damage) such as neuropathy (damage to the nervous system), retinopathy (damage to the eye), vasculopathy are improved or the progression arrested following successful pancreas transplantation.
What are the risks of a Pancreatic Transplants?
Here is a look at some of the possible risks and/or complications that may result from a pancreas transplant:
- Your body may reject the new organ as a foreign object, attack it, and render it useless.
- You will have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of your life to help prevent your body from rejecting the new organ. These drugs can lower your immune system and trigger bacterial and viral infections, and increase the chances of some cancers. However, if you are, also, having renal transplant you would be taking immunosuppressant medications anyhow.
- Since 75% of all pancreas transplants are performed with kidney transplants, complications post-surgery are higher with higher rates of rejection of the new organs.