Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation for Diabetes

Topic Overview

If you have pancreatic islet cell surgery because of type 1 diabetes, a surgeon will insert a small group of working pancreas cells (islet cells) from two or more donors through the portal vein in your liver. After surgery, these cells slowly begin producing insulin. When the cells produce enough insulin to stabilize your blood sugar, you may no longer need insulin injections.

Although this surgery is more promising as a cure for type 1 diabetes than pancreas transplant surgery, it is still experimental at this time.1 Because the surgery is less complicated than organ transplantation, usually fewer complications occur. However, you must still take medication to prevent rejection.

A Canadian study of a very small number of people with type 1 diabetes found that islet cell transplants were successful when glucocorticoid-free immunosuppressants were used.2 The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded studies in 10 centers in the United States and Europe to try to repeat the results of the Canadian study in a larger number of people. Evidence from the European studies indicate that islet cell transplants have the potential to become a treatment option for people with type 1 diabetes.3



  1. Robertson RP (2004). Islet transplantation as a treatment for diabetes: A work in progress. New England Journal of Medicine, 350(7):694–705.
  2. Shapiro AMJ, et al. (2000). Islet transplantation in seven patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus using a glucocorticoid-free immunosuppressive regimen. New England Journal of Medicine, 343(4): 230–238.
  3. White SA, et al. (2001). Human islet cell transplantation: Future prospects. Diabetic Medicine, 18(2): 78–103.


Author Caroline Rea, RN, BS, MS
Editor Maria Essig
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Matthew I. Kim, MD - Endocrinology & Metabolism
Last Updated November 18, 2008

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