Some patients with type 1 diabetes have experienced positive results from pancreas transplants. Typically, part or all of a new pancreas is surgically implanted. The old pancreas is left alone; it still makes digestive enzymes, even though it doesn’t make insulin. Most organs are obtained from someone who has died but has decided to be an organ donor.
A transplant of the pancreas is usually reserved for those with serious complications. Pancreas transplants are most often done when a patient also receives a new kidney. The pancreas transplant adds little further risk in this situation and offers big benefits. However, transplant surgery is risky. Each person needs to carefully weigh the potential benefits and risks.
Benefits of Pancreas Transplants
- You may be able to maintain a normal blood glucose level without taking insulin.
- Many of the diabetes-related side effects are prevented or delayed.
- Most people with nerve damage who receive a pancreas transplant do not get worse and sometimes show improvement.
Downsides to Pancreas Transplants
- The body treats the new pancreas as foreign and the immune system attacks the transplanted pancreas.
- Transplant patients must take powerful immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection of the new pancreas. Drugs that suppress the immune system can lower resistance to other diseases, such as cancer, and to bacterial and viral infections.