Pancreas Disease

Pancreas Transplantation at the Oklahoma Transplant Center

Type-1 diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas has stopped producing the hormone insulin, which is responsible for controlling blood glucose (sugar) levels. These patients must take insulin in order to survive. Approximately 13,000 people annually in the U.S. are diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes – mostly children and adolescents. Type-1 diabetes is typically treated with strict glucose monitoring, multiple insulin injections daily and dietary restrictions.

If left uncontrolled, high levels of glucose can result in long-term damage to the patient’s eyes, blood vessels, kidneys and nerves. Diabetes is a major risk factor for amputations, blindness and kidney failure requiring dialysis. Acute irregularities in glucose control can result in either hypoglycemic unawareness – a condition in which low blood glucose impairs cognition — or diabetic ketoacidosis — a life-threatening condition associated with swelling of the brain, seizures and heart arrhythmias. 

Successful pancreas transplantation results in the restoration of insulin production. The new pancreas typically will start making insulin within a few minutes of being transplanted. Long-term, pancreas transplant patients are relatively free of diabetic dietary restrictions, free of hypoglycemic unawareness and ketoacidosis, and can actually ameliorate eye and kidney disease associated with long-term diabetes.

Pancreas transplantation has been performed at the OU Medical Center since 1995. Surgeons at the Oklahoma Transplant Center have transplanted or managed hundreds of pancreas transplant patients in their practices. 

There are three types of pancreas transplants:

Simultaneous Kidney-Pancreas (SPK) 

This will be offered to patients with kidney failure secondary to Type-1 diabetes. Transplanting both organs at the same time corrects both the kidney failure and diabetes. Only one transplant surgical procedure is required. Patients can expect to enjoy freedom from dialysis and freedom from insulin.

Pancreas-After-Kidney (PAK) 

Those suitable Type-1 diabetics who have already received a kidney transplant (either living donor or cadaveric) may be offered pancreas-after-kidney transplantation (PAK). 

Pancreas Transplant Alone (PTA)

This procedure will be offered to patients with Type-1 diabetes if they are experiencing hypoglycemic unawareness. These patients have not experienced kidney failure. 

Patients are evaluated by means of a multidisciplinary approach that ensures a comprehensive assessment of the patient. This serves two purposes. First, the transplant team is able to evaluate each candidate for risk factors or contraindications to pancreas transplantation. Second, the patient and family members are able to decide if pancreas transplantation is suitable for them. 

Patients with Type-1 diabetes may be referred to the Oklahoma Transplant Center from their dialysis center, primary physician or nephrologist, other transplant centers or through self-referral.