Question: What is the role of islet cell transplantation in the treatment of diabetes?
Answer: Islet cells are the portion of the pancreas that actually make the insulin. It is this portion of the pancreas, the islets, that are defective in type 1 diabetes. In order to avoid some of the surgical complications inherent in a whole pancreas transplant, researchers have been isolating these islets and just transplanting the islets rather than doing a whole pancreas transplant. The hope is that this would reduce some of the surgical complications associated with pancreas transplantation.
Currently, islet transplantation is still an experimental field. While the results in certain centers are quite excellent, the long-term function of the islets is substantially less than that is seen with the whole pancreas transplant. Furthermore, the immunosuppressive drugs that are necessary to prevent the islets from being rejected are the same that are needed to prevent a whole pancreas from being rejected.