The pancreatic islet cell transplant is a first for Ohio State University Medical Center, one of about a dozen medical centers in the country with a team in place to perform the transplants that improve the quality of life for people with diabetes.
Ohio State has been preparing for the highly specialized procedure for more than seven years, says Dr. Amer Rajab, a transplant surgeon who leads the team. “Being able to offer such advanced treatment to our patients is a dream come true after so many years of hard work to lay the foundation for this program,” said Rajab.
Rajab says it takes a very systemized approach to be successful with islet cell transplants, not to mention a precise match between the donor and recipient. “Rejection of the transplanted cells is our biggest concern, and as with all types of organ and tissue transplants, recipients need to take anti-rejection drugs for life to suppress their immune system.”
The transplant at Ohio State took place two weeks ago, and the 43-year-old patient was in the hospital for only a short time before going home to complete her recovery. “She is taking a decreased dose of insulin while her body acclimates itself to the infused cells,” says Rajab. “We’re very optimistic that over time the body will begin producing its own insulin and regulating glucose in the blood.”
Rajab said candidate selection is very important and those on the waiting list for islet cell transplants must meet strict criteria. “Candidates undergo many specific tests, but what they all have in common is type 1 diabetes that generally cannot be controlled with good medical management,” says Rajab. A person with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live.
Once the donor pancreas was received at OSU Medical Center, Rajab and his team began a nine-hour process to isolate and purify high quality islets. Islets, tissue comprised of several different types of cells, include beta cells that make insulin. During the transplant, a radiologist guided the placement of a catheter in the abdomen to infuse the islets into the portal vein of the liver, where the cells mimic the function of the pancreas.
In 2008, Ohio State successfully performed its first auto-islet transplant, where a patient received her own islets to treat her pancreatitis.
Islet cell transplantation at Ohio State provides a unique opportunity to lessen the need for insulin and eliminate the fear of hypoglycemia, according to Dr. Kwame Osei, director of Ohio State’s Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, who was instrumental in developing the islet transplantation program. “Our ultimate goal is to perform islet transplantation in humans with type 1 diabetes without the need of immunosuppressive drugs,” added Osei.
Dr. Steven Gabbe, CEO of OSU Medical Center, says the transplant is a remarkable achievement that brings hope to people with type 1 diabetes. “OSU Medical Center will continue to play a very important role in the research and clinical development of novel therapies for people who have diabetes,” says Gabbe, who has had type 1 diabetes for 43 years and, as a practicing OB-GYN, treats women with diabetes in pregnancy. “We’re going to have some tremendous opportunities in the next few years to make significant improvements in the lives of those with diabetes.”
The pancreas is a small organ located near the lower part of the stomach and the beginning of the small intestine. The organ produces enzymes essential for digestion and secretes insulin that helps control blood sugar levels.
Ohio State’s comprehensive organ and tissue transplant program was developed in the 1960s and today is one of the largest in the country for kidney and pancreas transplantation.