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Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation


Pancreatic islet cell transplantation is the transfer of islet cells from a donor pancreas to another person. Islet cells contain beta cells that the body needs to make insulin. Type 1 diabetes happens when the body's immune system attacks and destroys beta cells. Newly transplanted islet cells can make insulin. This may reduce or eliminate the need for insulin injections.

The procedure is being studied as a method to treat people with long-term, uncontrolled type 1 (and some type 2) diabetes.

The Pancreas.

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Reasons for Procedure

This procedure may be done on people who:

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to nearby organs
  • Transplanted islets that do not work as they should
  • Antibodies develop against the donor cells
  • Side effects from the medicines needed to stop the body from rejecting the transplanted cells

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Long-term diseases, such as diabetes or obesity

What to Expect

Problems to Look Out For

Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excess bleeding, or discharge from the cuts
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • High or low blood glucose levels

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

Prior to Procedure

Your care team will determine if you qualify for a transplant. If approved, it may take months or years to find a donor.

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Whether you need a ride to and from surgery
  • Specialists you may need to see
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as blood tests to find a donor match




  • American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes - 2021. Diabetes Care 2021;44(Suppl 1):S1-S244.
  • Diabetes mellitus type 1. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/diabetes-mellitus-type-1-39.
  • Islet Transplant for Type 1 Diabetes. University of California San Francisco website. Available at: https://transplantsurgery.ucsf.edu/conditions--procedures/islet-transplant-for-type-1-diabetes.aspx.
  • Pancreatic Islet transplantation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/insulin-medicines-treatments/pancreatic-islet-transplantation.


  • Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.