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Islet Cell Transplant

Islet cells help your body begin to regulate blood glucose and prevent hypoglycemia.

Over the past ten years, our team has performed more than 200 human islet isolations, 27 pancreatic islet auto transplants and six human islet allotransplants under two investigational new drugs. We’ve provided more than 50 million human islets to diabetes researchers around the world, accelerating the pace of discovery in diabetes research.

Islet cells are clusters of cells that help your body regulate blood glucose and insulin. There are around one million islets in a healthy adult pancreas, each containing a few thousand cells.

Beta cells, which detect sugar in your blood and then release insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels, are one type of cells within an islet. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body’s immune system mistakenly identifies these beta cells as harmful and destroys them. Thus, your pancreas is no longer able to regulate the body’s blood sugar levels. An islet cell transplant is one option to treat this condition.

Islet Cell Transplant In-Depth

Kenneth Brayman, MD, explains the procedure and the UVA islet cell transplant program. View islet cell transcript.

Pancreatectomy & Islet Auto-Transplant Procedure

At UVA we offer a service not widely available: auto islet cell transplants for patients with chronic pancreatitis.

During this procedure, your doctor removes your pancreas and then isolates and removes the islet cells from the pancreas. We then transplant the islet cells in your liver. The islet cells produce insulin, which may prevent you from needing insulin injections.

Both procedures take about 8-10 hours. You'll stay in the hospital for approximately 10 days after surgery.

The Evaluation

The evaluation process begins with a referral by your doctor. Or you can self-refer with a phone call.

The coordinator will collect basic medical information. Then, our financial counselor will contact you to provide advice on basic financial questions and begin contact with relevant insurers.

Your surgeon will review your candidacy for auto-islet cell transplant during your clinic visit. Pre-operative tests determine if surgery is safe for you. This may include tests of your heart and lungs and an oral glucose tolerance test. 

Since you will be receiving your own islet cells, there is no wait aside from scheduling surgery.