Pancreas transplantation

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]


A pancreas transplant is an organ transplant that involves implanting a healthy pancreas (one that can produce insulin) into a person who has diabetes. Because the pancreas performs functions necessary in the digestion process, the recipient's native pancreas is left in place, and the donated pancreas attached in a different location. In the event of rejection of the new pancreas, the recipient could not survive without the native pancreas still in place. The healthy pancreas comes from a donor who has just died or it may be a partial pancreas from a living donor. [1] Whole pancreas transplants from living donors are not possible, again because the pancreas is a necessary organ for digestion. At present, pancreas transplants are usually performed in persons with insulin-dependent diabetes who have severe complications.


There are three main types of pancreas transplantation:

  • Simultaneous pancreas-kidney transplant (SPK), when the pancreas and kidney are transplanted simultaneously from the same deceased donor.
  • Pancreas-after-kidney transplant (PAK), when a cadaveric, or deceased, donor pancreas transplant is performed after a previous, and different, living or deceased donor kidney transplant.
  • Pancreas transplant alone, for the patient with type 1 diabetes who usually has severe, frequent hypoglycemia, but adequate kidney function.

CT image demonstrates a right lower quadrant pancreas transplant


In most cases, pancreas transplantation is performed on individuals with type 1 diabetes with end-stage renal disease The majority of pancreas transplantations (>90%) are simultaneous pancreas-kidney transplantions.[2]

Preservation until implantation

The donor's blood in the pancreatic tissue will be replaced by an ice-cold organ storage solution, such as UW (Viaspan) or HTK until the allograft pancreatic tissue is implanted.


Complications immediately after surgery include rejection, thrombosis, pancreatitis and infection.


The prognosis after pancreas transplantation is very good. Over the recent years, long-term success has improved and risks have decreased. One year after transplantation more than 95% of all patients are still alive and 80-85% of all pancreases are still functional. After transplantation patients need lifelong immunosuppression. Immunosuppression increases the risk for a number of different kinds of infection[3] and cancer.


The first pancreas transplantation was performed in 1966, three years after the first kidney transplantation.[4] A pancreas along with kidney and duodenum was transplanted into a 28-year-old woman and her blood sugar levels decreased immediately after transplantation, but eventually she died three months later from pulmonary embolism. In 1979 the first living-related partial pancreas transplantation was done.


  1. [1]
  2. Gruessner AC, Sutherland DE (2005). "Pancreas transplant outcomes for United States (US) and non-US cases as reported to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the International Pancreas Transplant Registry (IPTR) as of June 2004". Clin Transplant. 19 (4): 433–55. PMID 16008587.
  3. Fishman JA, Rubin RH (1998). "Infection in organ-transplant recipients". N Engl J Med. 338 (24): 1741–51. PMID 9624195. Full text
  4. Kelly WD, Lillehei RC, Merkel FK, Idezuki Y, Goetz FC (1967). "Allotransplantation of the pancreas and duodenum along with the kidney in diabetic nephropathy". Surgery. 61 (6): 827–37. PMID 5338113.

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