Coronavirus: pancreatic transplant update
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Information for patients
This page contains answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about pancreatic transplants.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is an organ (a 'gland' about 6 - 8 inches long and 2 - 3 inches wide) found inside the upper middle part of your abdomen (belly), just below the end of the ribcage.
It produces enzymes that break down the food we eat and hormones needed for normal body functioning. Specialised groups of cells called islets produce the hormone insulin, which is responsible for lowering blood glucose (sugar) levels.
In people with insulin-dependent diabetes, the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin, which is why they need to have insulin injections, to keep blood sugar levels within safe limits.
About pancreatic transplants
What is a pancreatic transplant?
This is where the entire pancreas with its attached duodenum (the first 4 inches of the bowel), is transplanted from the person giving the organ - the donor, to the person receiving the organ - the recipient. The transplanted pancreas then produces the insulin that the recipient's body needs, so that he/she does not need to inject insulin any longer. The pancreas is donated by a donor who has died ('deceased donor'). Pancreas transplants from living donors are not performed in the UK.
There are two common types of pancreas transplants. See the types of transplantation page for more information.
Who can have a kidney and pancreas transplant?
It is a suitable treatment option for individuals with both kidney failure and diabetes where they need insulin injections (Type I diabetes, which the majority of patients have). Under certain circumstances, Type II diabetic patients may also be eligible.
There are strict criteria for suitable patients, including a healthy heart and not being overweight. As not all patients can benefit from this form of treatment, doctors assess patients to decide whether they are fit enough to have such an operation and whether it is likely to benefit them in the long-term. The assessment is very thorough and includes specialised investigations of the heart and blood vessels.
How long do patients have to wait for a transplant?
After a joint decision between the transplant team and yourself regarding the type of pancreas transplant which is most suitable, you will be added to the national pancreas pool (waiting list) for a transplant.
It is not possible to predict when the organ(s) will become available as it depends mainly on your blood group and antibodies that you might have against a donor's tissue type. Once on the waiting list you have to be contactable by phone and available to leave home within three hours of receiving a phone call.
If you are unwell or planning to go abroad then you need to let us or your local recipient transplant coordinator know, so that we can temporarily suspend you from the waiting list until your return. More information about pancreas transplants can be found on the NHS website.
What does the operation involve?
A kidney and pancreas transplant takes about 5-8 hours. This is longer than a kidney (or pancreas) transplant alone, which takes around 3-4 hours. The recipient's own kidneys and pancreas are left in place and do not need to be removed. The pancreas is placed in the right side of the lower abdomen and the kidney is placed on the left side.
Will I need to take medicines after my transplant?
Yes. As with all transplants you will need to take drugs called immunosuppressants, which prevent your body from rejecting the new pancreas (and kidney). These drugs must be taken every day. The medication after a kidney transplant alone is similar to that taken after a combined kidney and pancreas transplant.