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Solid organ transplantation

Published on 07 February 2024

Islet cell transplantation

The Islet Cell Transplantation Service is for people over the age of 16 living with type 1 diabetes and hypoglycaemic unawareness (sudden drop in blood sugar). It is considered when diabetic control is difficult using insulin therapy.

The service is based at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

Treatment pathways

A number of treatment pathways involve islet transplants:

  • islet alone transplant will be considered for those with type 1 diabetes and severe hypoglycaemic unawareness but normal or near-normal renal function simultaneous
  • islet and kidney transplant will be considered for those with renal failure and insulin-dependent diabetes
  • islet after kidney transplant may be considered if a patient has had a kidney transplant that functions but also has insulin dependent diabetes

What is islet cell transplantation?

It's a minor procedure where islet cells are taken from the pancreas of a deceased donor. This process occurs in a laboratory ahead of the procedure. Transfer of the cells into the liver of someone with type 1 diabetes and severe hypoglycemia is then possible.

Destruction of insulin-producing cells in the islets of the pancreas causes type 1 diabetes. Insulin is a hormone the pancreas makes to regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels. It allows the body to use sugar from carbohydrates in food for energy, or to store glucose for future use. It stops blood sugar levels from becoming too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycaemia).