The pancreas is a glandular organ which performs two important functions to assist in the digestion of food by:
- Producing enzymes that are secreted into the bowels to help break down fat and protein during digestion
- Producing hormones (insulin and glucagon) that are secreted to the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar
The ability of the pancreas to produce these hormones is often adversely affected by pancreatic diseases – most often diabetes. Pancreas transplants are performed on patients with type 1 and occasionally type 2 diabetes and usually result in the elimination of insulin injections.
Pancreas transplants result in an improved quality of life for diabetics. However, in many cases insulin therapy is a suitable option. The Swedish Transplant Team can help you weigh the transplant and lifelong immunosuppression versus continuing insulin therapy and help you decide on the best course of action for your situation.
A pancreas transplant involves implanting a healthy pancreas (one that can produce insulin) into a person who has diabetes. Donor pancreases come from a person who has been declared brain dead, but is still on life support.
Types of pancreas transplants
There are three main types of pancreas transplantation:
- Pancreas transplant alone, for the patient with type 1 diabetes who usually has severe, frequent hypoglycemia, but adequate kidney function.
- Simultaneous pancreas-kidney transplant (SPK), when the pancreas and kidney are transplanted simultaneously from the same deceased donor.
- Pancreas-after-kidney transplant (PAK), when a cadaveric, or deceased, donor pancreas transplant is performed after the recipient has already had a kidney transplant. Much of these pancreas transplants are done when a recipient receives a kidney from a living donor and then waits for a pancreas to become available.
Pancreas transplants are usually performed in persons with type 1, or occasionally type 2 insulin-dependent diabetes. Patients often have advanced chronic renal failure, end-stage renal disease, or are on dialysis. Over 80 percent of pancreas transplants are performed at the same time that a recipient is receiving a kidney transplant.
The pancreas is a vital organ performing functions necessary to the digestion process. Failure of the donor pancreas would quickly cause diabetes, but also difficulties with the digestion process. To safeguard against this complication, the recipient’s native pancreas is left in place and the new pancreas is attached in a different location. In the event of rejection of the new pancreas, the recipient’s old pancreas will continue to perform the functions vital to the digestion process.
Pancreas transplant surgery alone takes about three to four hours. Pancreas transplant surgery with kidney transplant takes about eight hours.