A pancreas transplant is a surgery to implant a healthy pancreas from a donor into a person whose pancreas is not functioning properly. The pancreas is an organ found behind the lower part of the stomach. The main function of pancreas is to make insulin, a hormone and release it to help the body to use and store the sugar and fat from the food we consume.
If pancreas does not make enough insulin, the blood sugar levels may rise to unhealthy levels, resulting in diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a life-long condition that occurs when the pancreas produces less or no insulin. Diabetes is divided into two types – type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. While type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where pancreas produces very less or no insulin, in type 2 diabetes the body does not use insulin produced by pancreas properly due to various reasons. This condition is also called insulin resistance. There is no definitive cure for diabetes except lifestyle modifications, lifelong medications and insulin injections.
Why is Pancreas Transplantation Performed?
A majority of pancreas transplantations are performed to treat type 1 diabetes. Pancreatic transplantation can be the only available cure for type 1 diabetes, in appropriately selected patients (only for those with severe complications).
Pancreatic transplantation, in a few cases, may also be done to treat type 2 diabetes. The transplant surgery may be rarely performed to treat bile duct, pancreatic or other cancers.
What are the benefits of Pancreas Transplantation?
Pancreas transplant may be worth considering for Type 1 and also for Type 2 diabetics, under certain specific medical situations. Pancreas transplantation adds significant survival benefit to diabetic patients who otherwise face a life expectancy that is one-third of the normal. There seems to be a significant survival advantage when this transplant is done pre-emptively, when the first signs of the end organ damage from diabetes are evident, rather than waiting till organ dysfunction.
What are the Types of Pancreatic transplantation?
Severe type 1 diabetes is generally linked to chronic kidney failure. Consequently, an individual in need of pancreas transplant may also require a kidney transplant. Pancreas transplantation is carried out in three forms:
- Simultaneous Pancreas-Kidney Transplantation: This is meant for diabetic patients who are on or are approaching dialysis.
- Pancreas transplant after kidney transplant: This is meant for diabetic patients who have had a successful kidney transplant but have ongoing complications from diabetes.
- Pancreas Transplant alone: This is meant to benefit patients with diabetic complications, but who have adequate kidney function.
How is Pancreas transplantation Evaluation Done?
A multidisciplinary team evaluates the patient for a pancreas transplant. If found suitable, the patient is then placed on a waiting list. The health condition and suitability of the person, for major surgery, are taken into account. Pancreas transplantations are not performed on individuals with chronic infections like TB, advanced cancer, or very severe liver, heart, or lung disease.
Pancreas Transplant Surgery
During the surgery, the donated pancreas is transplanted into the recipient at the earliest, post harvesting. The patient’s own pancreas is not removed during a pancreas transplant while the donated pancreas is ‘added’ to the recipient.
Patients typically return to their work, social and familial lives following successful pancreas transplantation with proper medication and regular checkups. Patients should also adjust with the diet to keep the pancreas healthy and functioning well. Regular exercise and diet can help maintain a healthy weight which can prevent many common post-transplant complications like infection, bone thinning and heart attacks.
Not so long ago, transplantation was considered a miracle of modern medicine. Today, these miracles are performed on a routine basis by world-class hospitals like Apollo hospitals with the right mix of teams with experience and expertise, and the latest technology.