Pancreas Transplant: A Possible Option for Patients with Diabetes

Dec 17, 2021 | Olivia White | @oliviawhite

According to a report published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2020, diabetes affects 34.2 million individuals in the US. Diabetes is a chronic disease with the potential for significant complications and requires a lot of management. Major advances have been made in the treatment options for diabetes in the last 10 years with new technologies and medications. These advances offer more freedom for patients with diabetes, but these patients still require lifelong management.

Tambi Jarmi, M.D., a nephrologist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, has published many studies that show how a pancreas transplant can be considered a treatment option for diabetes. This transplant can restore insulin production and may stop or slow the progression of diabetes complications.

There are three types of pancreas transplants:

  1. Pancreas transplant alone
  2. Combined pancreas and kidney transplant
  3. Pancreas transplant after kidney transplant

Two groups of people can benefit from a pancreas transplant or pancreas + kidney transplant

  1. People with Type 1 diabetes whose kidneys are functioning and develop 'hypoglycemia unawareness' -meaning they cannot tell when their blood sugar levels change and therefore may have life threatening insulin reactions.
  2. People with Type 1 diabetes who do not make their own insulin resulting in difficulty controlling diabetes and kidney disease.

A successful pancreas transplant may eliminate the need for insulin and frequent blood glucose checks. While individuals who undergo transplant go on to live a normal life engaging in their communities and practicing healthy habits, transplantation is a serious surgery and does require lifelong treatment with immunosuppressant medications and frequent check ups with your transplant care team. Pancreas transplant may not be suitable for all individuals with diabetes. However, when people with diabetes meet the criteria for transplant, the benefits of the transplant outweigh the current traditional and standard medical management of diabetes.

All three of Mayo Clinic's transplant centers offer pancreas transplants as potential treatment for diabetes for patients who meet the criteria.

Learn more about this on the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast: Pancreas transplant can be a cure for diabetes. 

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