Pancreas and Islet Transplant

Mark Morrison Mark Morrison struggled with Type 1 diabetes for forty years. After undergoing an experimental pancreatic islet transplant at UChicago Medicine, he is insulin-free and more active than ever.

Over the last 100 years, the University of Chicago Medicine has often assumed a leadership role in diabetes treatment and research. Notably, one of our researchers played a crucial role in the discovery of insulin--an event that has saved countless lives of people with Type 1 diabetes.

More recently, we were the first hospital in Illinois to perform a pancreas transplant for a patient with advanced diabetes. Currently, we are also testing another exciting -- but experimental -- treatment for Type 1 diabetes: islet transplantation.

High Success Rates

When Type 1 diabetes cannot be controlled or is causing serious problems, a patient may want to think about a pancreas transplant. For patients with severe Type 1 diabetes, a pancreas transplant probably offers the greatest chance of a more "normal" lifestyle, free from insulin shots. Many patients with advanced diabetes also suffer from kidney disease and may require a kidney transplant.
We consult one-on-one with patients and their families to determine the best option:

  • Pancreas-only transplant for people with Type 1 diabetes who have healthy kidney function or who already have a functioning kidney transplant. Nearly all patients who receive a pancreas from a deceased donor no longer need insulin shots. Their risk for kidney disease and other diabetic complications may also be lower after a transplant.
  • Combined kidney-pancreas transplants for patients who have Type 1 diabetes and significant kidney disease. During the same operation, patients receive a kidney and pancreas from the same deceased donor. For many diabetics with kidney failure, this procedure provides the greatest hope for a life without dialysis or insulin injections.

Success rates for both of these transplant operations are high. Patients who remain free of rejection for the first year have a high likelihood of keeping their organ for one or more decades.

Clinical Trial on Islet Transplants

We are among a select number of hospitals in the country testing the effectiveness of islet transplants. Islet transplants are intended to treat advanced Type 1diabetes by replacing destroyed islets with new ones. No surgery is needed. The islets cells from a deceased donor's pancreas are removed and injected into a major blood vessel of the patient's liver. The islet cells then begin making insulin.

Isolating islet cells Team members isolate islet cells in the islet laboratory.

Islet transplants are still experimental. We still don't know about the long-term benefits and risks. This is why the University of Chicago Medicine is conducting multiple clinical trials on islet transplantation. Our initial trial involved giving nine patients islet transplants and following them for five years to see how well they do. Four of those nine patients fully accomplished the transplant procedure and all four of them are currently insulin free (does not require insulin injections at all) and are doing well. The very first patient lives almost five years without insulin.

Currently, we have two separate research studies for which we are actively recruiting subjects:

  • The first is designated for brittle Type 1 diabetics who have excellent kidney function (Islet Alone Transplantation - ITx)
  • The second is for Type 1 diabetics who have already received a kidney transplant (Islet after Kidney Transplantation - IAK Tx)

Initial selection criteria for Islet after Kidney Transplantation (IAK) include:

  • Must be between the ages of 18 and 68
  • Must have been diabetic (Type 1) for the last 5 years
  • Must have undergone a kidney transplant at least three months ago
  • Must be on an a regimen of glucose monitoring and insulin injections
  • Must be available for clinic visits for the duration of the study
  • Must meet study medical criteria as evaluated by Dr. Witkowski


You are not eligible to be involved in the study if:

  • You do not meet the above criteria
  • You do not meet the required height/weight ratio
  • You do not have a good liver function

Participants in this trial will be followed for three full years.

Initial selection criteria for Islet for ‘Brittle’ Type 1 Diabetes (Islet Alone) include:

  • Must be between the ages of 18 and 70
  • Must have been diabetic (Type 1) for the last 5 years
  • Must be on an a regimen of glucose monitoring and insulin injections
  • Must be available for clinic visits for the duration of the study
  • Must meet study medical criteria as evaluated by Dr. Witkowski


You are not eligible to be involved in the study if:

  • You do not meet the above criteria
  • You do not meet the required height/weight ratio
  • You do not have a good liver function
Joey Knoop Joey Knoop experienced extreme sugar spikes and crashes for 25 years before having an islet transplant at the University of Chicago's hospital. The experimental procedure helped get her diabetes under control and she no longer needs insulin injections.
» Read Knoop's story.

Participants in this trial will be followed for three full years.

We hope our findings will provide information on the procedure's safety and success, as well as form the basis for additional trials in which more subjects with diabetes can be enrolled. Similar studies are being conducted around the world.

If you are interested in this research and think you may be eligible, please download and complete this questionnaire to help us determine if you are a candidate for this study:

Diabetes Research Program Intake Questionnaire (7.6 MB PDF)

Please download, complete and email this form to the Islet Cell Transplant Program Coordinator, Lindsay Schenck, RN at lschenck@surgery.bsd.uchicago.edu.

If you would like information regarding this trial, please contact Lindsay Schenck, RN, at (773) 702-2504. Dr. Piotr Witkowski is conducting this trial.

A Team Devoted to Transplant Care

Our surgeons have conducted thousands of transplant surgeries, earning national and international recognition for their surgical expertise and research. They work side-by-side with specially trained:
Diabetologist-endocrinologists

  • Transplant nephrologists
  • Interventional radiologist
  • Transplant nurses
  • Transplant pharmacist
  • Social worker
  • Financial counselor
  • Transplant dietitian
  • Other support staff who work solely with transplant patients

The entire team works exclusively with transplant patients, allowing us to provide unmatched expertise.

A Leader in Diabetes Care

Our endocrinology program is ranked among the finest in the country by U.S.News & World Report. In addition, the University of Chicago Medicine operates the only federally funded National Diabetes Research and Training Center in the region.

Our physicians and researchers have a reputation for providing progressive therapies and engaging in leading-edge research. We provide diabetes patients with up-to-date treatments as well as disease education, dietary counseling, and other support services. Our goal is to help patients achieve the best quality of life possible.

Compassionate and Accessible

One of our patients summed up our patient care approach: "Everybody … really took care of me as one human being to another human being. They truly demonstrated to me what compassion and concern are all about."

Kpi manual The Kidney, Pancreas & Islet Cell Transplant Patient Manual provides details about the transplant process. » Download chapters.

We pride ourselves in being available at all times to patients. During the months leading up to transplant surgery, each patient is assigned to a pre-transplant coordinator -- a registered nurse with a special expertise in transplant care. Your pre-transplant coordinator will arrange all of your tests and consultations. She or he is your personal advocate, and is always there to address any questions or concerns.

We follow patients very carefully after transplant. All patients visit our Post-Transplant Clinic for regular check ups. In between visits, patients can always reach one of our post-transplant nurses by phone or page -- anytime day or night.


Appointments

Or call 1-888-824-0200

Conditions

  • Benign strictures of the biliary tree
  • Bile duct surgery
  • Bile duct tumors
  • Immune deficiency disorders
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Other related diseases and conditions of failing organs