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Pancreas Transplant for Type 1 Diabetes

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, you may be eligible for a pancreas transplant if you have type 1 diabetes. A new pancreas can make insulin shots or an insulin pump unnecessary and greatly improve your quality of life.

Our highly skilled transplant team partners with endocrinologists at our Diabetes Center, who can help manage your illness while you wait for an organ.

Forms of Type 1 Diabetes Eligible for Transplant

Some people with type 1 diabetes develop complications that doctors can treat with a pancreas transplant. This procedure may benefit individuals who have:

  • Type 1 diabetes with hypoglycemia unawareness: If you have hypoglycemia unawareness, your body doesn’t produce hormones in response to low blood sugar. These hormones would typically cause dizziness, shaking and other symptoms that would alert you to boost your blood sugar levels. Because you don’t have these symptoms, your blood sugar continues to drop, resulting in severe hypoglycemia that requires immediate medical attention. Severely low blood sugar levels can cause:
    • Confusion
    • Seizures
    • Blackouts 
    • Coma
  • Brittle diabetes with severe hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia: Brittle diabetes refers to type 1 diabetes that is difficult to control with insulin, diet and weight management. Blood sugar levels can be extremely high or low in patients with brittle diabetes. Severe hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can lead to impaired vision, heart disease, and stroke. It can also result in ketoacidosis, or diabetic coma. Symptoms of this condition include:
    • Breathlessness
    • Sweet-smelling breath
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Dry mouth
  • Type 1 diabetes with kidney failure: The kidneys act as filters, removing waste products from the blood. However, hyperglycemia associated with type 1 diabetes can cause the kidneys to filter too much blood, which damages them over time. This damage leads to kidney failure. People with type 1 diabetes and kidney failure may be eligible for a combined kidney-pancreas transplant or a pancreas-after-kidney transplant. Kidney failure includes:
    • Advanced kidney disease in which the kidneys are severely damaged and have minimal function
    • End stage renal disease in which the kidneys can no longer function 

Pancreas Transplant Versus an Automated Insulin Pump

A pancreas transplant can make insulin shots and insulin pumps unnecessary. The benefits of a transplant can even outweigh those of using an automated insulin pump – also called an artificial pancreas. This device measures your glucose levels every 5 minutes and provides insulin as needed to regulate blood sugar.

This approach to managing type 1 diabetes requires you to wear the pump on your body and attach a sensor that measures glucose levels through the skin. The pump delivers insulin through a small tube, or catheter, just under the skin. While the device is more convenient than shots or older pump models, people using this device can still experience severe hyperglycemia. The devices are also vulnerable to technical failure.

People who repeatedly have severe hyperglycemia while using an insulin pump may be candidates for a pancreas transplant. 

Contact Us

For more information about pancreas transplant or to schedule a transplant evaluation, call 855.925.0631.