Before the transplant, islet cells are collected from a donor pancreas through a complex purification process. Physicians then insert a catheter into the patient's abdomen, and using x-ray guidance, thread it into the portal vein, which carries blood to the liver. About a teaspoonful of islet cells are injected through the catheter. The cells disperse throughout the liver where it is intended that they will live and produce insulin. The patient is alert during the process but receives local anesthesia to numb the skin where the catheter is inserted. Most patients stay in the recovery area for a few hours, and are able to go home within a day or two. As in Annie's case, more than one transfusion of islet cells may be needed.
"Islet transplantation has been in the experimental stage for more than 25 years," said Dr. Gores. "It's considered a treatment rather than a cure, although in several recent studies, islet cell transplantation has been successful enough for some people with Type 1 diabetes to completely stop taking insulin injections. For Anderson this is a dream come true."
CMC's islet cell transplant research is being funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The Transplant Center at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte has been active in transplantation since 1970 when the first kidney transplant was performed here. The program has grown steadily and today includes programs transplanting heart, liver, kidney and pancreas.
The islet transplant teams consist of surgeons, nephrologists (physicians specializing in kidney disease), transplant coordinators, scientists, social workers, dietitians and pharmacists. In 2004, the Transplant Center performed 83 kidney, 17 heart, 24 liver, and 5 kidney/pancreas transplants.